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The White Sharks and Whales Expedition

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Greenland, statistics and the politics of Denmark's claims

Okay, this one is a bit technical, but it's to help some of the IWC delgations who might not have access to all the data they need about the hunting in Greenland - so bear with us.

Speaking in 2007 to the BBC, the Minister for Finance and Foreign Affairs of the Home Rule Government of Greenland, Aleqa Hammond, is quoted[1] as saying,

‘…the number of Greenlanders living only off hunting could have dropped by as much as 6,000 in the past 10 years, from 8,000 to only 2,000 now. That's a significant social change in a country with a population of around 56,000. "I come from a hunting family," she says. "Five of my uncles were hunters. Now only two are."’

In 2002 the official IWC quota allocated for Greenland’s aboriginal subsistence hunting amounted to a total of 187 minke whales and 19 fin whales. This ‘represented some 564 tons’ of whale meat based on the Greenlandic ‘preferred conversion factors’. I use the speech marks because we have considerable scientific concerns over the way Greenland defines and uses such conversion factors.

For 2002, inclusive of unused quotas available from the previous year, the actual available quota was 202 minke whales and 19 fin whales, representing a total of '594 tons'.

In 2002 the Danish Government maintained that Greenland was unable to obtain enough whale products from the quota that the IWC had allocated, claiming a need for '670 tons'.

The IWC reports the striking of 13 fin whales,149 minke whales (one minke was reported struck and lost), and an illegal kill of 2 humpbacks. Denmark reported in their Progress Report to the IWC, 2003, that an additional one fin whale and one minke whale were taken in bycatch.

This represents approximately 445 tons taken based on the disputed Greenlandic conversion factors.[2]

In the same year Greenlandic hunters also took 3287 smaller cetaceans, including beluga (424), narwhal (672), orca (21), pilot whale (38) and harbour porpoise (2132). This represents some '302.24' tons of cetacean products.[3]

However, in 2002 it was reported that the domestic Greenland market was unable to absorb all the whale meat that was available and that the Government and association of professional hunters were examining the opportunities to develop of an export trade.

On the 6th December Greenlandic national radio (KNR) reported that[4],

Greenland is floating in whale meat has been impossible to sell the large amounts on the home market.

Its evident despite the claims of the government for a need of '670 tons', the Greenlandic population did not want, or even need, the ‘445 tons’ of whale meat that was available.

It must therefore be considered that the actual ‘need’ in 2002 was less than the actual landed kill and substantially less than the IWC allocated quota.

This is not the first time that Greenland was saturated with whale meat. In 1995, with a quota of 177 minke whales and 19 fin whales, hunters actually took 162 minke and 12 fin whales (‘444 tons’). That year the chairman of KNAPK stated that Greenland’s domestic market for whale meat

‘...had been met’ and it ‘was time to consider exporting it’[5]

The number of registered subsistence hunters in 2002 was 2,868 and in 2010 this had reduced to some 2,081[6].

The number of sports hunters in 2002 was 9,682, and 2010 this was some 7,631. We should note that these figures come the official Greenland statistics publications, but the numbers seem to vary from annual statement to annual statement. We have therefore sought to report either the highest figures presented by Statistics Greenland or we have taken an average of the figures presented rather than take the figures which assist our case.

This should also be considered in the context of the fact that whilst the population of Inuit peoples in Greenland in 1988 was almost 6,000 less than it was in 2010, the number of recognised subsistance hunters was some 13, 797.

In the case of registered hunters the number of people engaged in active subsistence hunting appears to be consistently diminishing and the remaining hunting is concentrating in fewer individuals. These may well be a factor contributing to pressures that will lead to further commercialization of the hunts.

Hunts are increasingly less community activities, and increasingly mechanisms of organised supply and demand for commercial distribution networks.

The statistics for sports hunting had demonstrated an increase through the period 1993 (5,452 sports licences) to 2002 (9,682 licences), but even these have now steadily diminished.

This growth of sports licences up until 2002 may represent a period of significant urbanization when people who were moving out of settlements wished to maintain a link to their original food supply, but the continued urbanization and ‘increasingly post-industrial, service-sector economy’ has meant that they have less time or interest to indulge in their previously cultural activities replacing these activities with others.

Thus in the period 2002 -2012 we have seen a significant decrease in the number of subsistence hunters but, and despite Greenland ‘floating in whale meat’ in 2002, the Danish Government has demanded a significant increase in the number of whales that Greenland should be able to hunt.

I have been giving this topic some further thought in an extended blog 'Greenland and the evolving concept of local community in relation to its demands for increased large whale quotas'.

You can see the results of the IWC 64 debate of this issue.


[1] Painter, J. (2007) Greenland sees bright side of warming. BBC News, 14th Sept: Available at: https://
[2] The conversion factors are based on the Greenlandic preferred ratios, apart from the humpback whale which is based on the CV of 9.5 as recommended by the Report of the Small Working Group on Conversion Factors (from Whale to Edible Products) for the Greenlandic Large Whale Hunt. IWC/M10/2
[3] Based on conversion factors reported in TC/36/AS/2 Report to the standing sub-committee on aboriginal/subsistence whaling of the International Whaling Commission June 1984, page 32. Orca conversion rate estimated by author
[4] Extracts from the website, the national radio KNR, on 6 of December 2002 quoted in Hjarsen T, (2003) ‘Greenland’s International Obligations, WWF Denmark
[5] High North News, No.10. May 15th, 1995. Quoted in Nuttal, M. (1996), Aboriginal Subsistence Whaling: A Case Study from Greenland. A report submitted to the Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society.
[6] Statistics Greenland