Norwegians, having invented ’Modern Whaling’, and sharing a near monopoly with Britain in the Antarctic in the 1930s and late 1940s, led in proposing rules that they claimed were to promote conservation. That was partly true though, as ever, the other driver was profit, and measures to limit the catches of blue, fin, humpback and sei whales in the Antarctic were driven by a need to limit production of whale oil in order to support its price. They ultimately failed largely because new arrivals Japan and Germany wouldn’t play, and other – fish and vegetable – sources of oil for margarine production were arriving.
Norwegian companies, and eventually their Government, advocated the full utilization of the carcasses of killed whale and required, for example, that factory-ships carry equipment for extracting oil from the skeleton and muscle (before whale meat became a viable commodity) as well as from the oil-rich blubber, and that the muscle be reduced to marketable ‘meal’. Some of the Norwegians also wanted to end the use of dead blue whales as buoys and ships’ fenders.
Current Norwegian hunting for the ‘small’ minke whales in the North Atlantic is about the most wasteful form of ‘modern’ commercial whaling ever. ‘Small’ is a misnomer – each whale weighs up to ten tons. The industry and Government like to call this ‘small-type whaling’, which conjures up the image of brave little boats operating close to shore. No way! S-TW is defined as killing any of a short list of ‘small’ whale species (bottlenose whales, pilot whales, white whales, as well as minke) using powered vessels and cannon-fired harpoons with explosive heads. These operations used to take place throughout the North Atlantic Ocean, up to thousands of miles from home ports. Now, because of extensions of national jurisdiction by Canada, Denmark (Greenland) and others it is limited to the Northeast and Central North Atlantic, including the Arctic.
It is mostly ‘pelagic’ whaling, which is defined not by where it happens, such as in the open ocean, but by where the whales are processed – on board a vessel rather than on shore. There are two kinds of pelagic whaling. One kind uses large factory ships onto which dead whales can be hauled – up an open stern ramp these days, the whales having been chased and killed by a group of fast, armed catcher boats, collectively forming what the whalers have always called ‘an expedition’. The other kind of pelagic whaling employs only catchers, larger than those attached to expeditions and constructed in such a way that the dead whales can be hauled into deck over the side, where the prime meat is butchered and the rest of the carcass slid back to the sea to feed the sharks and crabs or simply to rot. When their huge ‘expedition’ industry in the Antarctic failed, in the 1970s, Norwegian operators tried this extremely wasteful form of whaling in the Antarctic, to continue supplying Japan’s whale-meat market, but that failed, economically and for operational deficiencies.
In 1972 Norway, its delegation guided by a fine scientist who later became head of the famous Marine Research Institute in Bergen, voted in favour of the UN proposal for a 10-year moratorium on all commercial whaling. Naturally they backed away from that when the idea was put to the IWC, where the aggressive Ministry of Fisheries prevailed. A decade later the IWC itself voted for a moratorium, from which the Government opted out by registering an ‘objection’. When the IWC’s moratorium came into force in 1986, Norway – which was by now out of the Antarctic, I think for ever - paused briefly its ‘small-type’ killing of minke’s in the North Atlantic, did a little ‘scientific’ whaling’, in the style with which we are familiar through Japan’s much larger operations in the Antarctic and North Pacific, but then resumed full-scale commercial minke whaling. Why? Before the end of the Antarctic operations the pelagic whalers had become engaged mainly in producing frozen meat, mostly for the Japanese market, and the smaller scale North Atlantic operations were also largely serving that profitable market. However, decisions under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) were now impeding export and import of whale meat, even though the whaling nations could – and, mostly, did – register ‘Reservations’, similar to the IWC ‘Objections’.
However, domestic politics was the real name of the game. The Labour Party politician, Gro Harlem Brundtland, wanted to be Prime Minister of Norway as well as pursue her later famous global ’environmental’ game through the UN processes. To do that she needed a few votes from the north of her country. The whalers gave them to her. In 1985 the scientists at the Bergen Institute had treacherously gone along with the view of the rest of us in the IWC Scientific Committee that the minke whakes in the NE Atlantic were depleted and ripe for protection – zero catch limit until recovered.. The Commission agreed. Mrs Brundtland punished her scientists then by moving responsibility for scientific advice to the IWC to the Statistical Institute in Oslo, where her friend Dr Lars Walløe was a biggish cheese, and who set up a rump ‘international’ panel of ‘independent’ scientists to demolish the Scientific Committee’s work. They failed, but never mind, Norway could continue whaling under its objections both to the Protection Stock classification and the moratorium.
This all looked rather bad for Norway, a country with a good moral and scientific reputation to protect – and Gro Harlem trying to construct her ‘Green’ reputation – so it was announced that its whaling under objections would be conducted under the rules set by the IWC’s Revised Management Proceudure (RMP), which had been accepted by the Commission but not yet implemented because they couldn’t agree on measures, such as international inspectors and penalties for transgressions, to ensure compliance with the rules. That was OK for a couple of years but then there was agitation from the whalers and engaged politicians for bigger catchers. So Lars’ crowd began to ‘modify’ the RMP to provide higher catch limits, but inevitably – of course – at higher risk of accidental further stock depletion. ‘So it goes’, as Kurt Vonnegut wrote pungently wrote in Slaughterhouse Five.
Dr Walløe even went so far as to let one of his clever hired hands go off on a sabbatical leave to write something to show that my scientific work – which, let me now admit it, was behind the 1985 decision to protect the minke whales – was faked, me being ‘a radical conservationist’. The extraordinary thing was that this gentleman began by trying to discredit the scientific adviser to the Dutch delegation who, in the 1960s, thought that the depletion of all species in the Antarctic, then collapsing rapidly, was grossly exaggerated. So, said our Norwegian friends, the Dutchman was merely, and corruptly, serving with his opinions the Dutch Government, which was struggling to get sufficiently high catch limits set to keep its one pelagic expedition in business. So I must have been behaving in the same way but in the opposite direction. It did not seem to occur to him that he could equally be accused of playing the game of which he accused me and the long-gone Dutchman, because everything he wrote supported the official Norwegian position on whaling|
Norway, once the most progressive and perceptive of the big whaling nations, now opposes the wishes of all the Latin American nations, members of the IWC, for the South Atlantic to be declared a whale sanctuary. Norway has, I’m sure, no interest in resuming whaling in the temperate and tropical South Atlantic; it was last there before the first World War. So this opposition is purely ideological. Yet when the declaration of international whale sanctuaries was first proposed in the League of Nations, in 1930, Norway was enthusiastic for them. I fear that at least five of its great marine scientists, all once holders of very senior positions and all held in great esteem, globally – Fridtjof Nansen (Oceanography and Arctic exploration), Johan Hjort (all fields of marine science and more), Gunnar Rollefsen (cod and more), Johan Ruud (whales and more), Gunnar Saetersdal (fishes, whales, oceanography and very much more) are sitting in heaven wondering whatever happened to their once intellectually vigorous and progressive country.