Norway's whale-hunting season opens in Barents Sea
10th May 200
Norwegian whalers set sail for the Barents Sea on Monday as they kicked off this year's hunt for minke whales, defying an international moratorium and angry protests from environmentalists.
Norway, the only country in the world that authorises commercial whaling, has this year set a quota of 670 catches.
The Scandinavian nation resumed whaling in 1993, seven years after the international whaling ban went into effect.
It has argued that its catches do not threaten stocks of minke whales, which the International Whaling Commission says number more than 100,000 in the North Atlantic, and says the hunt is necessary to keep whale stocks from growing so large that they devour much of the country's lucrative fishing resources.
But the opening of the whaling season each year is met by loud, angry protests.
"We are opposed to all forms of commercial hunting," Frode Pleym of the Norwegian branch of environmental group Greenpeace told AFP.
The organisation said it feared that the Norwegian practice would spread and that the whale hunt, along with maritime pollution and climate change, would threaten whale stocks.
Last year, Iceland also authorised a resumption of its whale hunt, but like Japan, Reykjavik says it is only conducting the hunt for scientific reasons.
Pleym said whale meat was increasingly difficult to sell as fewer and fewer Norwegians actually eat it, and claimed that Norway was merely continuing to hunt whales for reasons of "national pride".
The Global Anti-Whaling Campaign, an umbrella organisation of some 140 international associations, has meanwhile criticised the Norwegian method of killing whales.
The whalers use harpoons tipped with grenades, meant to deliver a fatal nervous shock as they detonate inside a whale's body. Animal rights activists have described the method as "real torture".
"That's nonsense. It's been proven that there is no other hunt in the world that is more effective than ours," said Bjoern Hugo Bendiksen, a Norwegian whaler.
According to official statistics, scientific observations have shown that 80 percent of whales killed by Norwegian harpoons die instantaneous deaths, a level that is for instance four times higher than that for elk hunters.
Opponents of the hunt point out however that whaling is not a profitable endeavour. There are only some 30 boats which hunt whales each year, and the total retail value of their catch is only 90 million kroner (11 million euros, 13 million dollars).
"The industry employs only a few hundred people for just a couple of months each year. We are trying to convince whaling nations that the financial gain is less than the damage done to their image abroad and the ensuing loss of tourism revenues," Pleym said.
But whalers disagree. Bendiksen said he earned some 70,000 kroner, (10,216 dollars) from whaling last year, accounting for 25 percent of his annual revenues with the rest coming from cod fishing.
"For the rich Norwegian economy, the whale hunt is nothing," admitted Rune Froevik, spokesman for the pro-whaling lobby group High North Alliance.
"But it's a question of principle. When there is an abundant resource, we should be allowed to exploit it. And, from a scientific point of view, whales are at the top of the food chain, eating more of the sea's resources than the entire Norwegian fishing industry," he said.
The Norwegian whaling season will end on August 31. In practice, the hunt already started last week in the North Sea, but that is a relatively small hunting zone with only a few dozen catches authorized in the region.