Norway is facing strong criticism from environmental campaigners over the country’s “inexcusable” killing of hundreds of whales this year, despite reports of dwindling interest in whale meat.
The wildlife charity Whale and Dolphin Conservation (WDC) said on Monday that Norwegian whalers had killed more than 570 minke whales in the 2021 season, which it said was the highest number in five years.
WDC added that the figure was also up from 503 whales last year, according to data obtained from the Norwegian Fishermen’s Sales Organisation.
“Killing hundreds of minke whales is utterly inexcusable, especially given the essential role they play in our oceans,” Vanessa Williams-Grey, policy manager at WDC, said.
“Whales are our allies in the battle against climate change.”
The figures came just days after the killing of more than 1,000 dolphins as part of a traditional hunt in the Faroe Islands, which sparked outrage from animal rights campaigners.
Almost 1,500 Atlantic white-sided dolphins were killed with knives and harpoons during the hunt, known as Grindadráp in the territory.
On Monday, WDC warned that whale activity between the surface and depths of the ocean helps to circulate essential nutrients through the seas and maintain a healthy marine system which stores carbon.
According to polling commissioned by NOAH, Norway’s largest animal protection charity, the Animal Welfare Institute (AWI), and WDC, interest in eating whale meat has fallen among Norwegians in recent years.
The research, which surveyed more than 1,000 Norwegians, found that just 2 per cent ate whale meat often, down from 4 per cent in 2019, and no-one under the age of 35 indicated that they ate it frequently.
Just under a quarter (24 per cent) of those questioned said they ate whale meat but only rarely, while 29 per cent said they had eaten it a long time ago.
The polling also showed that there was support among Norwegians for prohibiting whaling in areas that are important for tourism.
“Live whales can play an important role in Norway’s tourism economy, as Iceland and Greenland have already recognised by creating sanctuaries for whales in areas that host responsible whale-watching and other ecotourism activities,” Susan Millward, director of AWI’s marine animal programme, said.
“We urge the new Norwegian government to listen to its citizens, and establish similar whaling-free zones, especially in key tourist areas such as Svalbard and Finnmark.”
However, Odd Emil Ingebrigtsen, Norway’s minister of fisheries and seafood, argued that the government had recently seen “increased interest” in Norwegian whale meat.
“The quotas on minke whale are set on the basis of scientific knowledge approved by the Scientific Committee of the IWC, and are caught in a sustainable manner,” Mr Ingebrigtsen said.
“In addition, whales are healthy and good food, and Norwegians want minke whales on their dinner plate.”
Additional reporting by PA