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Outrage as Norway’s government says its whalers are ‘essential workers’

If you are able to help with a donation it would mean the world right now:

Humpback breaching

I’m writing from my desk in the corner of my dining room, where I’m hot desking most days with my 12 year-old son. His school has been closed for several weeks and I’m juggling home schooling (and switching off the XBox!) with home working. My husband has been furloughed and my elder son can’t return to university next term. There are many challenges for us all: observing the lockdown means that shopping is tricky and I’m sad that I can’t visit my elderly parents across town. But we’re also fortunate in many respects: so far, we’re healthy and I’m able to continue my work for Whale and Dolphin Conservation and so we willingly stand alongside other families and individuals all over the world.  

Staying at home is our contribution to the global effort to stem the coronavirus pandemic.

But this means that many businesses are struggling, including of course, those reliant on tourism. The pandemic has hit whale watching hard. I’ve been in touch with various operators around the world and their report is invariably the same: they’ve been badly impacted by the virus and the resulting travel bans.  Cancelled flights means no tourists and this, plus the need to safeguard their crews, has forced most companies to cancel trips for the foreseeable future. This is a real blow, since whale watching, as long as it is conducted responsibly, is a great means of introducing people to whales and dolphins, inspiring both admiration and advocacy.

Whale research has also been upended by the coronavirus outbreak. After a record number of gray whale deaths along the Pacific Coast, scientists in California had been intending to monitor this year’s migration in the hope of discovering what is precipitating the die-offs. Instead they, alongside whale researchers and citizen scientists the world over, have been grounded.

Gray whale
A gray whale breaches © Tim Stenton

Struggling to find any positives, I’ve been comforting myself with the thought that fewer boats on the water would at least translate to a cleaner and more peaceful ocean and therefore, some much-needed respite for whales and dolphins, allowing them to quietly get on with their lives.  Bearing in mind the crucial role the great whales in particular play in our ocean - helping to provide up to 50% of our oxygen - I felt happy at the notion that giving the whales some 'time out' would ultimately benefit each and every one of us.

But not a bit of it! It turns out that, whilst most of us have adjusted our daily routines to help curb the spread of the virus and support our health services - whatever the personal sacrifice - whalers are still going out with impunity!

 And worse, their governments have even awarded them the accolade of ‘essential workers’ and continue to use taxpayers’ money to subsidise this cruel and unnecessary industry.

I’m outraged that, whilst the Norwegian whale watch operators are respecting the lockdown, the country’s minke whalers are intent on ‘business as usual’ and have awarded themselves a quota of nearly 1,300 whales.  Last year, they harpooned 429 minkes, shipping much of the meat to Japan (whose whalers are also going out to sea), due to declining domestic demand.

minke whale
Norwegian whalers may kill nearly 1,300 minke whales

Most Norwegian people don’t even eat whale meat. In fact we polled Norwegians last year and found that only 4% of them eat it regularly. Like us, Norwegians are adjusting to a life of self-isolation and I imagine they would be pretty surprised to learn their government thinks killing whales is an essential way to spend their taxes at a time like this.

This year, the Norwegian Fisheries Directorate has even proposed relaxing the regulations around who can apply for a whaling licence, potentially allowing even more vessels to join the slaughter. Several whaling boats already left port on April 1st when the Norwegian hunting season opened, with the first minke landed the following day.

How can it be right that Norway’s whalers are encouraged to continue the slaughter when the rest of their nation has largely turned their back on whale meat and is in lockdown?  Be assured that at Whale and Dolphin Conservation, we are committed to stopping this cruel slaughter – whether it’s from our office building or from our dining rooms and kitchen tables. With your support, we will continue to fight for the whales until the scourge that is whaling is ended for good and the gentle giants living in our ocean are allowed to live their lives in peace and freedom.

Are you in a position to help with a donation?

We know that not everyone can give right now. But if you can, every single gift, small or large will really help us continue our fight to stop whaling and end the cruel slaughter for good.

Vanessa Williams-Grey

About Vanessa Williams-Grey

Policy manager - Stop Whaling and Responsible Whale Watching


  1. Avatar Audrey Hughes on 16th April 2020 at 4:23 pm

    Whaling is so un necessary

  2. Avatar Andrew Wells on 16th April 2020 at 4:26 pm

    A sad reflection on the human race, people are dying in their thousands and the Norwegian government thinks killing whales is essential. Just makes me feel so sad.

  3. Avatar Kimberly Ray on 16th April 2020 at 5:32 pm

    How can we, US citizens, help to stop Whaling in Norway? I am the Founder / CEO of Marine Conservation Network (MCN). Would a petition help?

    • Vanessa Williams-Grey Vanessa Williams-Grey on 20th April 2020 at 3:35 pm

      Hi Kimberly, good to hear from you and thank you for writing in. You could write to the Norwegian environment minister making the case for protecting whales as ‘climate guardians’ (see our “Green Whale” initiative here: Norwegians tend to be very environmentally aware and, being close to polar regions, they are particularly sensitive and concerned about the climate crisis and global warming (melting of polar ice caps etc). I am fairly sure that most Norwegians are unaware of the massively important role the great whales in particular play in our ocean and this is a very persuasive argument to take to them. Remember that many Norwegians have been fed the message by successive governments (and by whaling interests!) that whaling is a proud, traditional industry and that it is important to cull whales as they ‘eat all the fish’! This is untrue and this industry is cruel and outmoded – if Norwegians knew the facts, many would turn their back on the whaling industry and demand their government adopt a more enlightened and forward-thinking perspective. It is also worth having your organisation reach out to NOAH, which is a Norwegian animal welfare organisation which has long spoken out bravely about whaling. Led by veterinarian Siri Martinsen, WDC has worked with them for years and you can find out more here:

  4. Avatar D Stevenson on 16th April 2020 at 5:40 pm

    This is why years ago I swore that Norway would not be on my list of places to visit and that I would never knowingly buy a Norwegian made product.

    In the midst of what is going on in the world with Covid19 and people saying how it is going to change the world and we can’t go back to doing things
    as we’ve always done them the Norwegians are showing us that it’s not going to change, in fact it’s going to get worse.

    • Vanessa Williams-Grey Vanessa Williams-Grey on 20th April 2020 at 3:27 pm

      Hi – I completely understand your initial urge to boycott Norway and Norwegian products as many people have the same reaction, but (as I’m responding elsewhere on this thread), we would urge you to consider supporting the whale watch industry there as a strong economic counter to whaling. If the whale watch industry falters, then the whalers can make a stronger case for increasing their industry on economic grounds. It is vital of course that whale watching is conducted responsibly, but as long as it is, then it is far better for a country to take people out to enjoy and appreciate viewing live whales, than for a handful of whaling boats to go out to slaughter them. I’m an optimist and I really do hope that the world learns some lessons from the lockdown, not least compassion and the importance of living peacefully in harmony with nature and wildlife.

  5. Avatar Steve Brown on 16th April 2020 at 5:45 pm

    Hi Vanessa, just read your piece about Norway still whaling, shocking really but not surprised! I didn’t know that whales created 50% of our oxygen, very interesting, how do they do that? We live in York England and before the lockdown began we went to a seaside town near us and were surprised to see dolphins swimming about 20 feet away from us, a fantastic sight! Keep safe. Steve Brown and family.

    • Vanessa Williams-Grey Vanessa Williams-Grey on 20th April 2020 at 3:22 pm

      Hi Steve great to hear from you! WDC is working hard to publicise the important role that whales play in our ocean: we call this the ‘green whale’ concept and it is utterly fascinating. We all know how special whales are, but they really do play a VITAL role in protecting the health of our ocean, and ultimately, our planet. They really are climate guardian! You can learn more and read the research behind this on our website here:

  6. Avatar Lindsay Wilson on 16th April 2020 at 5:48 pm

    Very sad to think that this barbaric slaughtering is still going on. Norway is so out of touch with reality.

  7. Avatar Derek West on 16th April 2020 at 6:03 pm

    This utterly unnecessary killing of Whales by Norway , should arouse international condemnation . I would like to see tourist boycott the country, until the Government
    starts acting to protect the oceans.

    • Vanessa Williams-Grey Vanessa Williams-Grey on 20th April 2020 at 3:18 pm

      Hi Derek, there is certainly international condemnation of commercial whaling by Norway (as well as by Iceland and Japan). However, our policy is to encourage people to visit these regions with the specific aim of going whale watching as part of their trip and thus showing support for the often brave stance taken by the whale watch communities in whaling regions. Whales are precious and deserve to live wild and free for their own sake of course, but a successful whale watch industry also clearly demonstrates that live whales are far more ‘valuable’ to a country’s economy than dead whales. This helps build the case to end whaling – every whale harpooned is one fewer to be watched, or to carry out his or her valuable work in our ocean.

  8. Avatar shirley cooksley on 17th April 2020 at 9:17 am

    Unbelievable! How can Norway and Japan continue with the slaughter?? Is Iceland also whaling?
    I would love to support the whale watching tourism industry by visiting Iceland or Norway but have boycotted going because of the whaling.
    Over the years I have written countless emails to the embassies and governments concerned.

    Now the whalers are probably revelling in the fact there are no protesters out on the open seas witnessing the slaughter.
    I have always tried in my own way, to protect our environment and animals. The fact that China brought this virus to the world through their horrific wet markets. The fact China haa personally affected everything and everyone. And now this, our whales and dolphins need protection now more than ever.

    • Vanessa Williams-Grey Vanessa Williams-Grey on 20th April 2020 at 3:14 pm

      Hi Shirley, yes it is unbelievable that at this time of global crisis, certain countries thing it is acceptable to be hunting whales – especially when we know the crucial role they play in our ocean. Whales help to provide up to 50% of our oxygen – yet whalers ‘repay’ this service by harpooning them. It really does beggar belief. Iceland has not yet declared its intention to resume whaling – there was no whaling last year in Icelandic waters and of course I sincerely hope that this is the case again this year! The Icelandic government and official agencies are some years ahead in terms of valuing appreciating the tourism revenues brought in by its whale watch industry so there is greater hope that we may see an end to whaling in those waters, but we must remain vigilant for now! WDC policy is to ask people to support whale watching as a industry, especially in whaling regions, as that makes a strong case for LIVE whales, so once the pandemic crisis is over, please do take a trip to Iceland or Norway and go whale watching (but don’t of course be tempted to support any restaurant which serves whale meat).

  9. Avatar Charmaine Whalley on 17th April 2020 at 1:06 pm

    The Norwegian government should be ashamed they should know by now we need the whales in the seas. They should be named and shamed

  10. Avatar NEIL PETTIGREW on 19th April 2020 at 5:28 pm

    Absolutely disgraceful that Norway’s whalers have been deemed ‘essential workers’. I would like to know what the general Norwegian population thinks about this. Does anyone know?

    • Vanessa Williams-Grey Vanessa Williams-Grey on 20th April 2020 at 3:08 pm

      Hi Neil, it is hard to say as the Norwegian press is not reporting their public’s opinion of this – we do know two things however, firstly that the Norwegian government has long subsidised whaling as an industry, mostly to appeal to traditionalists and nationalists, both inside government and amongst the population. We do know that many Norwegians oppose whaling – in a survey we co-funded last July, only 4% of the representative sample of Norwegians (across all age groups and sectors) regularly eat whale meat. For most, whale meat consumption is rooted in the past – despite big advertising campaigns, children and young people, along with women of all ages, are increasingly turning their backs on it.

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