The tide of public opinion is changing and international opposition remains strong, but Norway’s highly controversial whaling practice is not dying quietly.
Norway’s Fisheries Minister, Per Sandberg, has announced they will allow whalers to kill even more whales this year, noting that “whale meat tastes good and it is good for health”. The yearly whaling quota is being increased to 1,278 common minke whales, up from 999 animals in 2017 and 880 animals in 2016.
"Norway has a viable whaling industry, despite zero subsidies, and that Japan is the only market outside Norway," Sandberg said in a statement. "That is impressive. I want to make sure that the whaling remains alive."
Minke whales are relatively common in the North Atlantic, especially around the Svalbard archipelago and in the Barents Sea, making them a common target for Atlantic whalers. The hunting of whales on an industrial scale began in the 17th century and brought many species to the brink of extinction. Faced with this grim reality, the International Whaling Commission adopted an international memorandum to end commercial whaling from 1986 onwards.
Norway and Iceland are the only countries in the world to ignore the international memorandum and continue to commercially hunt whales. Japan also still hunts whales, but officials claim it's in the name of “scientific research”. Russia has also expressed an objection to the moratorium.
Although the Norwegian government appears keen to revitalize the whaling industry, the majority of their citizens do not share this enthusiasm. AFP reports that the number of whaling ships has plummeted from 350 in 1950 to just 11 in 2017.
Equally, tastes are changing and the demand for whale meat is dwindling, often meaning that the meat doesn’t even get eaten. A report released in 2016 by the Environmental Investigation Agency in London showed that 113 tonnes (125 tons) of minke whale meat were delivered to Rogaland Pelsdyrfôrlaget, the largest manufacturer of animal feed for Norway’s fur industry, in 2014.
“This cruel industry is dying as demand for whale products in Norway evaporates,” DJ Schubert, a wildlife biologist with the Animal Welfare Institute, said in April 2017. “It is time for Norway to discard the harpoons and end the unnecessary suffering of whales and their unborn offspring by prohibiting commercial whaling – no other alternative is acceptable.”