Norway has killed more whales than any other nation over the past four years, and some of that meat has become animal feed for the Norwegian fur industry, according to new documents unveiled by two environmental organizations.
Revelations from the Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) and the Animal Welfare Institute (AWI) come as Norway opened up its whaling season Friday, and a week after Japan reported killing more than 300 minke whales — including pregnant females — for what it labeled as research. Now, groups are once again calling for an end to whaling — though this time the attention is placed on Norway, which along with Iceland and Japan, ignores a 30-year-old international moratorium on whale hunting.
“We’ve been really concerned about the fact that whaling continues, and [that] in cahoots with Iceland, [Norway has] been exporting whales to Japan,” Jennifer Lonsdale, director of the Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA), told ThinkProgress. “Why would a wealthy country like Norway insist on carrying on whaling?”
The groups also say that in 2014 more than 113 tons of whale meat — the equivalent to about 75 minke whales — was used by Rogaland Pelsdyrfôrlaget, the largest manufacturer of animal feed for the Norwegian fur industry.
“Whaling is inherently cruel and has no place in a civilized society,” said Susan Millward, executive director of AWI, in a statement. “Killing these sentient and magnificent animals to feed suffering animals on fur farms underscores why the world opposes whaling, and clearly demonstrates that Norwegians have no legitimate need for whale meat.”
Whale hunting has been a part of Norwegian coastal cultures for centuries, although commercial operations targeting the minke whale have only occurred since the early 20th century. Over the past few centuries, multiple whale species have been driven close to extinction as a worldwide whaling industry sought whale meat and fat, which was turned into cooking oil, candles, and more. Technological improvements like refrigerators made matters worse for whales, since vessels were able to hunt more whales farther away from the coasts. In the 1960s, the International Whaling Commission (IWC) tried to manage commercial hunting with limited success, until it enacted a moratorium with a four-year phase-in period in 1982.
But Norway objected to the 1982 moratorium and is “therefore not legally bound by the zero quotas,” said Jon-Åge Øyslebø, minister counselor at Norway’s embassy in Washington, in a statement to ThinkProgress. He said the minke whale stock in the Northeast Atlantic is “abundant,” and that quotas are based on models developed by the IWC.
The IWC didn’t reply to comments by press time, but the agency has a resolution calling on Norway to halt all whaling activities under its jurisdiction. Norway’s self-imposed whaling quota this season is 880, down from the 1,286 whales it caught last year. It is still much larger than the 330 Japan caught for “research,” all of which showcases the shortcomings of international agencies and treaties, which can do little against non-compliance.
According to figures provided by EIA and AWI, which are based on provisional national reporting, Norway has killed more whales than Iceland and Japan combined for the past two years. Norway killed at least 1,396 whales while Japan and Iceland killed a total of 1,018. Norway also increased exports of whale products, environmentalists claim, shipping 172 metric tons of meat and whale fat to Japan since 2014.
Similarly to Japan, there are reports that Norwegian’s appeal for whale meat is waning. “There’s a bottleneck in the market and the distribution. We must rebuild demand for whale meat, subject to tough competition from meat (from land animals) and fish,” Svein Ove Haugland, deputy director of the Norwegian Fishermen’s Sales Organisation, told the Guardian.
Environmentalists said market constraints and a growing whale watching industry should dissuade Norway from whaling. Whaling “isn’t an industry which is a necessary industry,” said Lonsdale, who added that in a time of climate change and pollution, hunting adds pressure to species that are recuperating from centuries of abuse. “We have to responsible,” she said.