Norway exports eight tonne whale appetiser to Iceland

Feature story - 16 July, 2002
This deadly delicacy is not only being exported in spite of an international ban on the trade of whale products, the contaminated blubber poses a serious health risk to the Icelandic people. But international and neighbourly responsibility are not at the forefront of the whalers minds, the gold rush that will follow is what preoccupies them.

Ellingsen factory, biggest whale meat and blubber storage in Norway.

No doubt Icelanders are on the dock right now salivating, waiting for their whale appetisers. Norway is breaking an international ban on the export of whale products to send eight tonnes of Minke whale meat and blubber to these eager dinners.

The Norwegian exporter Ole Mindor Myklebust says it is good to be back on track. "This is an appetiser for the Icelanders, and I am confident that they will like it and ask for more," he said.

But the Icelandic palate is not the problem. The trade in whale products is illegal under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) which is designed to protect species under threat from exploitation.

Norway and Iceland don't think this international treaty applies to them because they registered a reservation to it. But they still show up at the CITIES meetings and support efforts to remove whale species off the banned trading list.

Norway resumed commercial whaling in 1993 and since then stockpiles of the meat and blubber have been piling up in warehouses in Norway, waiting for the day when they could resume trade.

But after years of working through legal international channels to resume their export, last year Norway announced it would export the whale products in spite of the ban. The shipment that will arrive in Iceland this week is the first, and only the beginning.

The real goal of Norway's whalers is export to Japan where prices paid for whale meat are several times higher than in Norway. Based on this year's whaling quota, the meat and blubber could fetch over US$6 million on the Japanese market for the Norwegian whalers. As one whaler commented to the press during last year's whaling season "when export is reopened, who ever has a license to whale will be sitting on a gold mine."

Besides showing a complete disregard for international treaties, the Norwegians are endangering their Icelandic allies. Research conducted earlier this year revealed that whale blubber stored in Norway is unfit for human consumption. The samples of whale blubber studied by independent scientists in Germany are contaminated with various halogenated-organic contaminants such as PCBs, DDT and brominated flame retardants.

If someone ate a piece of whale blubber the size of their thumb, they would be dosing themselves many times over the advisory limits of some of the most toxic compounds known to humans.

This is because whaling is not the only threat to whale populations. Toxic pollutants accumulate in the fatty tissue of blubber and scientists are increasingly concerned that a number of these pollutants may be interfering with whales' hormone function, reproductive success and development.

Norway's whaling and export program will further jeopardise the worldwide moratorium on commercial whaling and whale populations. Pirate whalers will inevitably take advantage of the cover provided by this trade to smuggle illegal whale meat, from endangered as well as the more abundant species of whale. If all countries followed Norway's example with respect to CITES, we would have no international control over trading in endangered wildlife whatsoever.

The Norwegian whalers have already caught 520 Minke whales during their summer whaling season, they plan to kill 671 whales before the end of the season ? more than a hundred over last year?s catch.

Take action and voice your opposition to Norway's illegal hunt and export of whale meat and blubber by writing to the Prime Minister of Norway today.