When a loss making business with falling demand for its product only exists because of state subsidy, most would say it’s time to stop. When you add to this the worldwide abhorrence of the “production process” and the fact its very existence directly undermines a thriving industry that employs increasing numbers of people benefiting the wider community through economic ripple, then one is left asking the question, why continue? When the only answer in support is that “we have always done it” then there is hope that you may be witnessing the dying throws of a tradition that belongs in a different century. What is that tradition? Well, this is not basket weaving or wooden boat building, but the chasing of whales to the point of exhaustion then shooting explosive harpoons into them which is often followed by a slow and brutal death. How can there be a place for this in a civilised society? There isn’t and most Norwegians know this.
In stark contrast to non-profitable butchering of whales, whale-watching tourism was estimated in 2008 to generate US$2.1billion with 13 million participants employing 13,000 people globally and these figures are rising year on year as the demand increases from society wanting to experience these amazing animals. However, despite the International Whaling Commission (IWC) moratorium in 1986, Norwegian whalers have killed over 12,000 minke whales since resuming commercial whaling in 1993 under an objection to Article V of the ICRW (International Convention for the Regulation of Whaling, the IWC’s founding treaty). The killing has continued, despite international condemnation, with Norway attempting to justify to the international community that the State subsidised slaughter is both humane and sustainable.
Norwegian whalers make use of highly explosive penthrite-tipped harpoons, as the harpoon enters the whale two hooks at the back of the grenade catch on the whale's skin and a nylon cord extending from them pulls the grenade pin when it gets to an ideal depth inside the whale's body for detonation. This all sounds very efficient and supports the notion of a quick pain free kill; of course, the slaughter in the past had taken place far away from objective eyes and so to a certain extent we had to believe the spin coming from the whaling industry of rapid humane killing methods. However, times have changed and thanks to the increase in whale tourism and organisations like Sea Shepherd (www.seashepherdglobal.org ), World Animal Protection ( http://worldanimalprotection.org/ ) and others, we now know that in many cases this is far from the reality of this barbaric slaughter. Scientific study by the Norwegian government reported that the introduction of the penthrite grenade prototype increased the instantaneous death rate (IDR) of minke whales from 17% with "cold harpoons" (harpoons without explosives) to 45% during a study in 1985-1986, and went on to claim that with training this IDR could be improved further. So, from the Norwegian governments own scientists we have statistically significant evidence that probably more than half of minke whales are not killed instantly and as a consequence they endure a slow and excruciating death. This barbaric death has been witnessed by objective environmentalists, researchers and even tourists who describe the loud screams made the moment the harpoon enters the whale and the heart rendering noises made by the dying animal as it thrashes the sea in a futile bid to escape while the whalers use any means possible in a bid to finish off what the explosive harpoon failed to do humanely. It is clear from these accounts that there is overwhelming evidence that the whale suffers and the killing is far from humane.
Some have decided that enough time has been wasted waiting for Norway to cease the economic and environmental folly that is whaling and have resorted to direct action. A group calling itself Agenda 21 after the non-binding, voluntarily implemented action plan of the United Nations on sustainable development (a product of the UN Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED) held in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, in 1992) threatened the Norwegian government that if they did not comply with international whaling law then they would sink their whaling vessels. This was no empty threat with Sea Shepherd founder Captain Paul Watson claiming to have supervised scuttling of the Nybraena in 1992 and the Senet in 1994. Since then Agenda 21 have claimed responsibility for the sinking of the Elin-Toril in 1996 and Morild in 1998 together with attempts to sink the Sofie, Skarbakk and the sinking of the Svolvaer in 2007. The whaling industry claims this has not affected their illegal whale kill numbers which is factually correct; however, what has been achieved is worldwide publicity and perhaps more importantly a dramatic escalation in insurance premiums for whaling vessels adding further to the economic pressures on the unprofitable industry and their dependence on government subsidy.
It’s not a case of IF but rather WHEN will the whaling cease; increasing pressure from Norwegians (especially the younger generation), a thriving eco-tourism industry together with international pressure must ultimately end this outdated and barbaric practice. Hard-line whalers will of course continue until the government steps in as they appear to have little regard for anything other than their illegal “right to kill” which was demonstrated appallingly in a recent incident when 80 whale watching tourists aboard the trawler Reine, headed for areas off the Arctic Lofoten Islands, witnessed the whaling boat Maan fire a harpoon and eventually kill a minke whale directly in front of them. Attitudes like this can only be stopped by Government withdrawing financial support and complying with international law, should they not act then it is increasingly likely that the intervention of direct action groups will increase.
The final words I will leave to Mahatma Ghandi,
“The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way it treats its animals”