While the world deals with the global issues around a pandemic, it seems that whalers in Norway will not be grounded by the coronavirus.
The Norwegian whaling season starts on Wednesday, April 1st with a number of boats set to kill up to 1,278 minke whales. Last year, Norwegian whalers killed 429 minke whales, fewer than in 2018 (when they hunted 454) and well below the peak of 736 minkes killed in 2014.
Norwegian whalers hunt under an 'objection' to the global ban on commercial whaling. Up to 10 vessels could take part this season, however there are no dedicated whaling vessels. Most whaling is undertaken by fishermen, the vast majority of whom resume fishing after the whaling season.
In a disturbing development, authorities in Norway are proposing to make changes to the whaling permit regulations. Consultations on who can hunt whales normally take months, but current proposals may reduce that to just three weeks. This would potentially allow more vessels to join the whaling season. At least three additional vessels may already be lining up to take advantage of this weakening in process if it is passed.
For decades, the Norwegian government has subsidized the whaling industry and strongly promoted whale meat consumption. However, declining demand has forced the industry to be more creative in its attempts to spark a new interest for whale meat within key sectors of the population. Substantial government grants have been given to promote whale meat at food festivals and in schools. Other strategies include attempting to offload surplus whale meat to the homeless, but all have had mixed results and the trend remains downwards.
A 2019 survey into domestic consumption, part-funded by WDC, confirmed this trend. It revealed that only 4% of Norwegians regularly eat whale meat, while two-thirds either didn’t eat it at all or only did so ‘a long time ago’. 75% of 18-29 year-olds said they never eat whale meat or only did so ‘a long time ago’.