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Minke whale
Photo: Kjell-Arne Fagerheim
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Facts about whale hunting in Norway

Whaling has made an important contribution to the livelihoods of coastal communities in Norway for more than 1,000 years. Today, Norwegians only hunt one of the around 80 species of cetaceans, namely the minke whale. All other cetacean species are protected.

The quotas for the minke whaling are set by the Norwegian government based on abundance estimates approved by the Scientific Committee of the International Whaling Commission (IWC) and a management procedure developed by this committee. This procedure ensures that the Norwegian minke whaling is sustainable and does not have a negative impact on the overall population.

The most recent abundance estimate approved by the IWC Scientific Committee for Norwegian waters is 100,615 minke whales. The quota for 2017 is 999 whales, less than 1% of the total number of whales in this area.

Sustainable harvesting of marine resources

The whale meat is used for human consumption, primarily on the domestic market. Minke whaling is primarily a small-scale costal activity carried out by small (50 feet) or medium sized (60-120 feet) fishing boats that are rigged for whaling in the spring and summer season. The boats have a crew of four to eight people. The home ports of most whaling vessels are small fishing communities, and whaling and fishing have together contributed significantly to the economic and social development of rural, coastal communities in Norway.

Norwegian whaling is based on the principle that marine resources should be protected and harvested sustainably. Resource management follows scientific advice and the objectives set reflect an ecosystem-based approach.

The whaling season begins in April and ends in August/ September The boats are controlled and approved for hunting by inspectors from the Norwegian Directorate of Fisheries and the Norwegian Food Safety Authority. The Norwegian Electronic Trip Recorder (Blue Box) is used for at-sea monitoring of the hunt. In some seasons observers under the NAMMCO International Observation Scheme are present on board. In addition, a DNA sample is taken from every whale caught, and the genetic fingerprint of each whale ensures that there are no illegally taken whales on the market.

Under the International Convention for the Regulation of Whaling (ICRW), member countries can make legal reservations against decisions made by the IWC. Norway has used this mechanism to make a reservation against the global moratorium on whaling. It is important to note that the Scientific Committee of the IWC never recommended this moratorium. Norway has also formally reserved the right to disregard the listing of all baleen whales in CITES Appendix I (Appendix I lists animals and plants for which all international commercial trade is forbidden), and it therefore has the right to hunt whales and export whale products.

Vågehval 2

Minke whale

Photo: Kjell-Arne Fagerheim

Mandatory education for whale hunters

It is mandatory for new licence holders and gunners to attend a course that covers animal welfare legislation, minke whale anatomy, criteria of death, weapons and conduct of the hunt, and human safety. The gunners are required to pass obligatory shooting tests with backup rifle and harpoon gun prior to each season.

The weapons are 50 mm and 60 mm harpoon guns. The harpoon is equipped with a penthrite grenade (Whale grenade-99) developed in Norway in 1997-1999. The grenade is loaded with 30g pressed penthrite as explosive. The back-up weapon is a rifle of calibre .375 or .458, using full metal jacket, round-nosed bullets.

A survey covering all hunting vessels during the 2011 and 2012 hunting seasons, time to death (TTD) data were collected for 271 minke whales. Instantaneous death was recorded for 222 whales (82 %). The median TTD for the 49 whales not registered instantly dead was 6 min.


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