Greenland kills whales to feed tourists

Firstly let me say that I am against whaling, and I work as a marine conservationist.  Therefore my opinion may be a little bit biased.  However, I also believe that I am not in the minority, and that there are many substantial arguments against whaling.  With that in mind…

Whale being pulled into ship. Image: WDCS

Greenland is killing whales to feed tourists – and wants more

The Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society has conducted an undercover investigation in Greenland, where they found that whales caught under subsistence hunting rules (hunting by local people for their own food needs) are being served in dishes for tourists.

Restaurants were targeting visitors to the country with menus of bowhead and other whale meat. Supermarkets were also openly selling endangered fin whale and other whale meats, freely available for tourists to buy.  (By the way, if you buy whale meat for export and bring it back to the UK, EU or US, you risk arrest for importing an internationally protected species.  So you shouldn’t do it anyway.)

There is an international ban (via the International Whaling Commission, IWC) on commercial whaling.  But Greenland (a Danish overseas territory) has basically undermined this ban by selling whale meat to tourists, from whales it is allowed to kill solely for the nutritional needs of local indigenous people .

I’d like to just highlight this a little more.  The phrase “when the meat and products of such whales are to be used exclusively for local consumption” is understood by the IWC to mean:

(1) the personal consumption of whale products for food, fuel, shelter, clothing, tools or transportation by participants in the whale harvest; (2) the barter, trade or sharing of whale products in their harvested form with relatives of the participants in the harvest, with others in the local community or with persons in locations other than the local community with whom local residents share familial, social, cultural or economic ties. A generalised currency is involved in this barter and trade, by the predominant portion of the products from such whales are ordinarily directly consumed or utilised in their harvested form within the local community; and (3) The making and selling of handicraft articles from whale products, when the whale is harvested for the purposes defined in (1) and (2) above. Source

The selling of whale meat to tourists clearly isn’t covered by this definition.

Anyway… At the IWC meeting in Panama in July, Denmark wants to demand an increase to its whale catches in Greenland, to meet the needs of the local people.  But WDCS chief executive, Chris Butler-Stroud, said:  “The Danish government’s claims that Greenland needs to kill more whales for nutritional and cultural needs is laughable.  Who is this meat really for?  Greenland’s native-born population has increased by around just 9.9% in the last 24 years and yet, the request for more large whales by Greenland in the same period has increased by 89%!  Even the number of licensed subsistence hunters in Greenland has declined between 1993 and 2010 by a massive 49%. Our investigation report shows that this demand for more whale meat is clearly driven by the commercial consumer market, not by aboriginal needs.”

The proposed increase would include catching up to 19 endangered fin whales a year (almost double from current levels) and increase the number of humpbacks killed without a review for at least six years.

But there clearly isn’t the level of subsistence ‘need’ in Greenland that both Greenland and the Danish government are trying make a case for.

“We believe that this, together with the findings of the WDCS investigation should result in any request for the killing of even higher numbers of whales by Greenland being rejected and the situation thoroughly reviewed by the IWC,” said Butler-Stroud.

The research by WDCS and the Animal Welfare Institute found that 24 out of 31 restaurants visited, contacted or researched online offered whale meat to tourists. The groups said that meals available to tourists included whale burgers, buffets with whale meat for cruise ship passengers, whale pasta and Thai and sushi dishes. They said a significant proportion of the estimated 200,000 meals served to tourists in the country each year contained whale meat.

See more details at WDCS.

Fin whale on sale at Uummannak braettet (local market). Image: WDCS

But you shouldn’t eat whale meat anyway

It makes me angry to hear that more whales are being killed to feed tourists.  I can see why some subsistence whaling is allowed for cultural and nutritional needs.  But I still have a lot of issues with it, not least due to the kinds of corruption of the practice that has been seen here in Greenland. Subsistence hunting is difficult to control, controversial and basically assists commercial whaling interests.  See this article by WDCS on the main issues.  That being said, if the Inuit have excess whale meat, then I don’t see a problem with them selling it on.  They are probably not the drivers of this commercial industry; the danger comes from giving excess whale meat a commercial value that extends beyond what can be consumed by indigenous populations.  Also from the blurred line between local, aboriginal and visitor.

Secondly, I don’t get why people coming to the country are eating whale meat at all.  Travellers like to try out the local cuisine, yes.  But whale meat is not eaten by the greater proportion of Greenland’s population, so is it really ‘local cuisine’?  It is eaten only because it is the best nutrition that some indigenous peoples can get.

Most people prefer not to eat whale meat, and I don’t blame them.  Whether it’s for moral, cultural or health reasons, whale meat is generally not top choice on the menu.  If whale meat was on the menu back home, would you eat it?  I suggest probably not.  It’s the novelty of the thing that convinces people they should try it out, just once.  Even a good friend of mine with a Biology degree tried whale in Iceland.  As I expressed my shock, she explained that it was because “…you have to try everything once.  It’s part of visiting other places.  And they’re either going to ban whaling or run out anyway so I wanted to try it before it’s gone.”

I turned away in disgust.

This is why there is still demand for whale meat, and why whaling nations can still sell it.  Even when their own population doesn’t eat it. Tourism dollars are on the increase as more people travel, and more travel to ‘exotic’ destinations as well (i.e. different from home).

But if you just came back  from a safari, would you want to eat lion, cheetah or elephant?  Would you want to eat orangutan, or panda?  Whales are protected under international law.  Even those in reasonable abundance – like the Minke – I still wouldn’t want to eat, for many reasons (cruelty of hunting, toxin accumulation, unsustainability are some).  Why would you want to step off a whale watching boat and eat whale?

Eating whale meat as a tourist is supporting whaling.

It something that I cannot understand, and I cannot approve of anyone eating whale that doesn’t require this food in order to live.

So please, please, don’t believe that just because you are visiting another country, you need to try everything that’s on the menu.  You don’t.  You will survive just fine without it.

Unlike whales.

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5 thoughts on “Greenland kills whales to feed tourists

  1. Good information to share, thanks. Sad 😦

  2. […] I discussed recently, an undercover operation by the Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society (WDCS) and the Animal […]

  3. CHRYSDON says:



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