Tourists can save whales by losing their appetite for whale meat

Whale meat menu Norway 2017

I often wonder why so many tourists remember to pack their toothbrushes but leave their values behind on the kitchen table? I’m just back from a trip to Tromsø  in northern Norway, where I was reminded, once again, of that strange phenomenon: the tourist who sports a ‘Save the whale’ teeshirt down the local pub, but is apparently quite happy to order whale steak from a restaurant menu when abroad. Wandering around Tromsø, it’s easy to be struck by the number of venues boasting whale for sale. As if killing whales – when most of the rest of the world respects the international ban – was not enough, it felt doubly insulting to see Norwegian minke whale carpaccio feature on one harbourside menu at 115 NOK (around £11), the same price as onion rings and chips - and cheaper than a green salad! Can the life of a beautiful, sentient creature really be valued so cheaply?

It could be that many tourists have yet to realise that, by purchasing whale products, they are merely helping to perpetuate an industry that would otherwise have died by now. But that is the plain truth – despite government subsidies and massive marketing campaigns, whale meat in Norway is mostly eaten by the elderly and by visitors. In Iceland, the truth is starker still: it’s mostly eaten by visitors.

Whalers in both regions have complained of a sparse season and of having great difficulty finding enough whales to kill, with catches well down on last year. Nonetheless, Norway has succeeded in killing 342 minke whales (compared to 452 at the same time last year) according to Råfisklaget, the Norwegian fisheries website. Icelandic whalers, meanwhile, are disgruntled, having killed 17 minke whales, well short of their target of 50, prompting Gunnar Bergmann Jónsson, managing director of IP fishing company, the only company currently whaling in Iceland to declare that they will have to import Norwegian minke whale meat to cater for demand.

However, given that most of the demand comes from tourists, it seems to me that this should not be an impossible nut to crack: if we can just raise sufficient awareness amongst tourists, we can kill demand – rather than whales.

Anyone considering buying whale meat might have further pause for thought at the news of a particularly shocking incident which took place only days ago.  Peaceful campaigners from IMMCS (International Marine Mammal Conservation Society) in Germany were able to film a Norwegian whaling vessel, the Nystrand, kill a minke whale. According to their footage, the whale did not die instantly and probably suffered a great deal, before being finished off by rifle. The whale’s carcass was then ‘bled out’ and its blubber dumped overboard, in full view of a nearby vessel with young children on board. Surely that is enough to kill any appetite for whale meat stone dead?

Our strategy of informing visitors about the role that tourists play in perpetuating the hunts has been working well for some years, in Iceland especially. WDC, along with other NGOs, has steadily promoted Iceland as a venue to visit to enjoy watching live whales: period. Tourist demand for whale meat has dropped from 40% in 2009, to a mere 12% last year. But with ever-increasing tourist numbers, it’s important to keep up the momentum going, so if you know anyone travelling to a whaling region, please show them our flyers or check out whale-friendly restaurants here.

Further cause for optimism comes from perhaps unexpected quarters - the Icelandic Minister of Fisheries and Agriculture, Thorgerður Katrín Gunnarsdóttir has already stated firmly that ‘it's fairly clear in the long run that we are not going to live with this [whaling] policy forever and ever’ and yesterday, she visited a peaceful protest by Hard to Port, a German NGO  where she acknowledged that “I partly agree with what you do”. This is an unprecedented statement from an Icelandic minister, let alone a Fisheries Minister with responsibility for setting whaling quotas and is, therefore, much welcomed.

Even BREXIT should provide some valuable leverage, since the UK will need to negotiate new fisheries deals with Iceland, Norway and other whaling regions. This presents a golden opportunity to really push these countries hard on their whaling activities, given that the UK is such an important market for their fish.  UK Environment Minister, Michael Gove, also happened to pass the Hard to Port banners yesterday, whereupon a staff member was heard to say that “whaling is always on the agenda”.

Please support our work to ensure that whaling STAYS on the agenda!


By purchasing whale products, they are merely helping to perpetuate an industry that would otherwise have died by now.

Well written Vanessa, and thank you for presenting this often overlooked fact of life in Norway.

The hypocrisy in Norway is at times beyond belief. One one hand Norway profiles whales on the covers of brochures promoting Norwegian tourism, on the other, Norway actively encourages whaling.

Sadly, what you saw, only grazes the surface of the challenges that whales in Norway face. I recently returned from a trip in Lofoten, in that time spending time with a research group attempting to study whales in that area ( Those researchers have physically had to move to the mainland as whale numbers around the Lofoten continue to dramatically drop.

On top of the constant activities from boats such as the Nystrand mentioned in your article, continuing to hunt dwindling numbers, all cetaceans are being dramatically affected by almost constant seismic surveys, civil & military, taking place almost the entire length of the Norwegian coasts. Cetaceans are simply being denied access to the food they eat by this violent barrage on their environment. The seismic activities not only affect the whales, the fish they feed on, but recent research in this area and beyond has shown that this constant seismic activity is even killing zooplankton, the very foundation of marine life.

The situation here is chronic. Norway continues its whale hunting, it not only continues but increases its seismic activities, not just large scale gas & oil explorations, but the use of seismic deterrents surrounding rapidly increasing marine farms. Basically the ocean here is full of noise that is rapidly destroying the whole ocean eco-system.

I wont even mention the increasing frequency of whale beaching or plastics in birds and marine life, equally chronic in Norway, nor go into details about the un-regulated whale watching that in most cases is nothing more than pursuing hungry whales.

The tourists see non this. Despite the massive pressure on whales and other marine life in this area, we see little or no activity to introduce conservation or education. The research group I mentioned above, Ocean Sounds is underfunded, poorly resourced, yet daily is developing a knowledge base on whales and threats to their habitat in this area, few listen or even understand the data that these researchers are finding. Those that do, find it deeply disturbing.

Norway needs way more focus than it currently gets in terms of marine conservation. Its a huge coastline with a fantastic and diverse marine diversity, but its being destroyed, rapidly...very rapidly.

I would urge anyone reading the above article to share it with any one potentially visiting Norway. I would also urge WDC to take a fresh look at Norway, particularly Northern Norway, perhaps applying both its influences and some of its resources to marine life conservation here while there is still time. That time is rapidly running out.

I am wondering how people can do this to a creature like whale. They are the best and most mysterious creatures. You can visit for more information

Hi Vanessa,

Maybe the better sugestion to change the whole world and save animals, is to become vegetarian.

I really love to eat meat, but we're going to a strange way and maybe there's not option to come back...

This is sad, but its true!

Thanks for sharing this post!