Documentary Reveals 90% of Minke Whales Hunted By Norway Are Female And Pregnant

A still from the Norwegian documentary, Slaget om kvalen, or Battle of Agony, first shown on NRK1 Thursday, March 7 2017.

A new documentary recently aired in Norway has revealed that 90 percent of the minke whales legally hunted in Norwegian waters each year are female and “almost all” are pregnant.

The documentary, Slaget om kvalen or Battle of Agony, was shown on the public television network NRK, and showed graphic scenes of the whales being cut open and the fetuses removed.

Now conservationists are upset, not only due to the brutality of hunting of pregnant females but also due to the casual rejection displayed by Norwegian hunters of the International Whaling Commission's 1986 ban.  

"Whale hunting is now even more unacceptable," the head of Greenpeace Norway, Truls Gulowsen, told AFP. "On the one hand because it's in violation of an international ban but also because ... it's indefensible from the point of view of the animal's well-being to hunt them during an advanced stage of gestation."

The fact that Norway is one of two countries – coupled with Iceland – that ignores the 1986 international memorandum on the whaling ban is already controversial. A report last year by OceanCare, Pro Wildlife, and the Animal Welfare Institute revealed Norway is the top whaling country in the world, killing more of the marine mammals than Iceland and Japan combined in 2014.

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According to Egil Ole Oen, a veterinarian who specializes in whale hunting:  "Lots of slaughtered animals are sent to the slaughterhouse when they are pregnant."

"We have a professional approach and therefore we don't think about it," Dag Myklebust, captain of the whaling vessel Kato, added. That the majority of whales were pregnant was “a sign of good health.”

Norway is not the only country to hunt and kill pregnant females. Last year, Japan came under pressure when photos emerged of 333 minke whale carcasses on one of their whaling "research" vessels, 230 of which were female and 90 percent of those were found to be pregnant.

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This year, Norway has upped its legal hunting quota from 880 whales in 2016 to 999 for 2017. Oslo has argued that the minke whale population is strong enough to support its hunting, with Norway’s fisheries minister recently announcing he wanted to double the number of minke whales killed to 2,000 and sell the meat to the EU – despite the fact few people in Norway actually eat whale meat. The current estimations for global populations of minke whales is around 1 million. 

Conversely, Iceland’s largest whaling company, Hvalur, announced last week that it will be sitting out this whaling season due to difficulties with Japanese customs over imports of the whale meat, meaning the company is running at a loss. Almost all of the fin whale meat captured by Iceland's whaling industry goes to Japan. Although this will give the whales a break, sadly it's economically, and not environmentally, motivated. 

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