Statistical glance at small-whale catching


Harvesting of small whales was at its peak in Norway in the last part of the 1950s, with an annual catch of around 4 000 whales. Frode Brunvoll at Statistics Norway takes a glance at the history of whaling and whaling statistics.

Small whales mainly include all species of fully grown whales not larger than 12 metres. This means that all species of tooth-whales, except for the sperm whale, are "small whales". Of the baleen whales in Norwegian waters, only the minke whale classifies as a small whale. The minke whale exist in all oceans and can reach a length of 9 metres and weigh 10 tonnes.

The harvesting of small whales has a long history in Norway. It is mentioned in written sources as far back as the 9th century, and in former times the catch was usually done in the fjords. The whale or the whales were shut in narrow necks of water or fjords. They were then caught by harpoon and drawn on land, or poisoned by infected arrows made of iron in order to weaken it before it was harpooned and taken on land. Present modern harvesting of small whales started in the last part of the 1920s off the coast of Møre. Minke whales were caught with canon harpoons. Gradually the fishing ground increased up north to the coast of Trøndelag, Nordland and Finnmark. Whalers from the north and from østfold county, south of the capitol Oslo, gradually participated in the catching. The people from østfold made the Oslofjord their first whaling ground. Then in the last part of the 1930s some Norwegian vessels started catching near Shetland, Scotland, Bear Island and Spitsbergen. Until 1984 the whalers used cold harpoons (containing no explosives). These harpoons are now prohibited, and the whalers now use harpoons with explosives.

Catching of small whales mainly consists of minke whales, but in earlier times toothed whales, such as the killer whale bottlenose and pilot whale, were also caught. In 1976 the yearly maximum quotas took effect.

Only 33 vessels in 2001

The harvesting of small whales show a steady decline since the last part of the 1950s. The number of vessels participating in this kind of whaling varied between 350 in 1949 to about 50 vessels right before the commercial prohibition in 1987.

Since resuming whaling in 1993, the participation has been low, and the number of vessels was only 33 in 2001. A total of 550 minke whales were caught in 2001 of an allowed total quota of 549 whales. Total quota in 2002 is set to 674 whales. During the last two years before commercial prohibition in 1987, the catch value was about NOK 20 million, compared with NOK 45 million in 1983. The catch value in 2001 was about NOK 27 million.

International resistance and resolutions in the International Whaling Commission, IWC, against whaling have caused a stop in traditional whaling and later reduced quotas. In 1985 IWC classified the east Atlantic stocks as protected and therefore decided on a temporary prohibition on export of whales. Norwegian authorities were opposed to both these resolutions, but stopped the catching in anticipation of more reliable estimations of stocks.

Stocks of minke whale in the North Atlantic area, which includes fishing grounds in the North Sea, along the Norwegian coast, Barents Sea and at Svalbard, are estimated at 112 000 animals. In the central Atlantic area the stock of animals - central Atlantic, Island and Jan Mayen - is around 72 000.

For years the Norwegian authorities has had export prohibition of products of whale. The minke whale is comprised by the Convention of Washington (CITES Convention on International Trade of Endangered Species), which became operative in 1975 to regulate international trade of endangered wild animals and plants. Early in 2001 the Norwegian authorities opened for export of whale products. Permission to export will be given as licences and only to countries that give import licences, and are capable of making DNA-testing of imported products so that the authorities can track whales caught within the Norwegian quota. By the end of July this year there were some exports of whale meat to Island. Exports to Japan have not yet started.

For more information, contact: Frode.Brunvoll@ssb.no , telephone: + 47 21 09 49 35.

See also our publication Natural Resources and the Environment

(C) Statistics Norway