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Whaling in Greenland

Greenland has historically been given an Aboriginal Subsistence Whaling (ASW) quota by the International Whaling Commission (IWC) to hunt whales to feed those Greenlanders that have a real and continuous nutritional and cultural subsistence need to hunt. Today, modern market pressures means that a level of commercialisation has crept into Greenland's whaling tradition and WDC is concerned that what was once subsistence hunting to feed families is now just another becoming another form of commercial whaling.
Illulisatt external shot
Illulisatt external shot

Every few years the few nations that have historically been allocated an exemption to the commercial whaling moratorium, receive a quota for large whale species from the International Whaling Commission. This form of whaling is known as Aboriginal Subsistence Whaling (ASW), and only a few communities are recognised as fullfilling the IWC criteria to receive such a request.

Signatories to the Whaling Convention have the right to bring a request to the IWC, but the IWC is the only body that can decide that an application meets its standards for ASW.

Greenland has annoyed countries that would be sympathetic because of their promotion of whale meat to tourists

Greenland claims that everyone in Greenland, native hunter or tourist alike should have access to whale meat

In 2012 the IWC rejected Greenland's demands to increase the number of whales it wanted to kill when it was unable to answer concerns rasied by IWC Parties with respect to the oncreasing evidence of commercialization of the Greenlandic hunt. Many observers were particularly troubled by the sale of endangered species such as bowhead whales to tourists in restaurants.

Greenland, as part of the Kingdom of Denmark, refused to accept the criticisms and demanded that it should be given its quota despite the concerns of the other Member States. When a compromise proposal was put forward that would have delivered a quota, Denmark, who represent Greenland at the IWC, cynically pushed forward with a proposal that they knew would fail, and so Greenland walked away with no quota, but a defiant claim that it would whale anyway. The Danish civil servant that precipitated the failure of the vote, who infamously claimed that 'Greenlanders could kill whales with baseball bats' if they wanted, is now believed to be employed by the Greenlandic government as an advisor on whaling policy.

To avoid having to report its whaling as an infraction of the IWC moratorium, Denmark had at one stage retrospectively claimed that its whaling in Greenland was carried out under 'Special Permit', or 'Scientific Whaling'.

As the 65th meeting of the IWC was approaching Denmark threatened to leave the IWC and so blackmailed the EU into supporting its demands for Greenland. The EU Commission, recognising an opportunity to extend its own power base, had sided with Denmark and forced many conservation EU countries to support Denmark in its continuing abuse of the ASW system in submitting a resolution to the IWC -

What is even more concerning, is that it appears that Denmark, Greenland and Japan had been discussing whaling matters in the run up to the IWC meeting. It appears that Japan had also submitted a proposal for a commercial whaling quota that bases much of its arguments for its quota based on the 'advances' achieved by Greenland. 
Between them, Greenland, Denmark and Japan have sought to achieve a new form of commercial whaling, that stands to undermine the IWC moratorium on commercial whaling.

In 2014 Greenland killed a total of 176 large whales. This consisted of 157 minke whales (2 struck and lost), 12 fin whales (1 stuck and lost) and 7 humpbacks, with 1 struck and lost.

What does WDC believe should happen?

  • WDC believes that ASW operations should not be authorised if they include market-driven commercial elements.
  • WDC believes that the IWC Parties should not support any proposals that further legitimise the commercialization of Aboriginal Subsistence Whaling.
  • IWC Parties should seek that future proposals that support Greenladic whaling, or any aboriginal subsistence whaling, should ensure that whale meat products are only available to indigenous Inuit.
  • IWC Parties should, with some urgency, seek to review the IWC process for agreeing ASW quotas and achieve the highest standards for what is 'acceptable' as ASW.
  • The EU Commission should put the conservation of whales and its committments under EU and international environmental law before its own political interests in pursuing its agenda for more control (exclusive comptency) over EU Member States.

What is WDC doing?

What can you do to help?

Whilst the vote in Slovenia was a set back, we were pleased to see the Latin American countries and some others standing up to Greenland's demands and that both the Schedule Amendment and the ASW resolution did not pass by consensus. Please continue supporting WDC as we fight this uphill battle, as we shall not give up on the whales that swim in the waters around Greenland.