Under the radar

It is shocking enough to hear that this year’s IWC meeting has given permission for Greenland to annually kill nearly 200 whales – including humpback and bowhead whales - for the next four years but there is another gruesome activity that doesn’t apparently require any international discussion, agreement or quota - the brutal killing of thousands of Greenland’s smaller whales and dolphins.

As a seasoned campaigner with WDC, I have seen many horrific sights over the years but my recent visit to the world’s largest island left me with some grim, indelible memories of the continuing bloodbath that involves the cruel killing of belugas, narwhals, harbour porpoises and orcas.

Any international visitor to Greenland - and it has lots: 65,000 in 2012 – could have the misfortune to wander into the popular public braettets (fish markets) and see a whole array of whale meat on sale. In Nuuk, the capital, the braettet has a high-profile position on the main shopping street. When I visited last month, I was met with the sight of three harbour porpoise heads arranged ‘artistically’ alongside their dorsal fins and tail flukes. At the time of my visit the market was full of ‘redcoats’ - cruise ship passengers all in matching jackets in town for a tour of the highlights! This is not an isolated occurrence. According to the official ‘Statistics Greenland’ website over 10,000 harbour porpoises were killed between 2008 and 2012, 1,000 belugas and nearly 1,700 narwhals.  

In the communities of Kulusuk and Tasiilaq on Greenland’s east coast, I saw trinkets for sale made of orca teeth.

A friend of mine who visited  earlier in the season saw the remnants of an orca carcass on the shore and on enquiry in the village, was told the bulk of the meat was being used as dog food with some used for human consumption. The husky dogs of Greenland aren’t pets but working dogs. As global warming continues its inexorable rise, its effects on Greenland are dramatic. The ice cap is melting at an astonishing rate and more and more of the Arctic seas are now free of ice for large parts of the year. An ironic consequence of this is that fewer husky dogs are now needed. Yet as the number of dog sleds decreases, the ice-free coastal waters are bringing more orcas within range of the hunters’ guns and harpoons.

Recent research suggests that the orcas found in the waters off Greenland may have the highest concentrations of pollutants in the Arctic seas - as much as 10 times higher than that other Arctic predator, the polar bear. This study will help the health authorities in Greenland to decide whether this is an appropriate food item. 

Some distressing footage of an orca hunt in Kulusuk recently surfaced on social media but please be warned, these images are graphic. While it is true some Greenlanders rely on subsistence hunting to survive, these images once  again highlight WDC’s stance that the meat is not solely being used for subsistence by locals but is given, in this instance, to visiting Icelandic tourists for supper.

A part of my work focusses on the threats facing the endangered Southern Resident orcas of the Pacific Northwest. There are just 79 members left in this population and it is fair to say that every precious birth and every sad death now makes national and international headlines. Why then, when Greenland has butchered 114 orcas in a five year period, does it not cause the slightest media ripple? 


Thank you for bringing this to our attention Rob. I will share this and make more people aware. Thank you for all your hard work!

S T O P P !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Dinamarca continua dando mal exemplo.

In most civilized areas of the world the appearance of these animals would inspire wonder. How horrible.

What an amazing story this is, How terrible that they are killing that many whales and Dolphins. This makes me outraged and needs to stop! Who has the right to kill these beautiful, conscious thinking sentient beings? No One, that is the answer. We need to group better and do better as a very large group of like minded people, stop the politics and pull our numbers together and put an end to this bullshit. Together we are strong, but we have to get serious about it and demand legislation that protects these beautiful beings. It is the only hope for them to be free.

The IWC is a complete waste of time as there should be absolutely no quotas issued at all. Little do people realise that this is only about money but also these cetaceans are absolutely essential for a healthy fish stock and before we know it they will be gone and so will the fish. It seems to me that there is a media blackout in this whole area - the BBC certainly have nothing to report. It is a very sad state we have come to

Thank you for bringing this information and a big thank you for your dedication and work, gathering data and monitoring the problem,s of these wonderful Ocean dweller,s.It is sad beyond belief the way these Sentient,s are treated .The disrespect and stupidity of these people.I understand that year,s ago they were taken for food.I do think however that in a changing World,enviromental and overpopulation we need to be looking at way,s to help the Planet.The Ocean,s are the life of the Planet and the Creature,s within part of a very balanced eco system.If we lose the balance we are done.

Thankyou for letting us know.I will be sharing.When will the slaughter of these beautiful animals ever end.

So horrific and we are so helpless. The countries that are not killing them are capturing them. We must fight for them.

This just has to stop - IWC seem to be a waste of time in this area. Surely it would better to have whale watching, to bring awe and wonder to the public rather than barbarity!

Aboriginal and scientific exception clauses need to be deleted from IWC and small cetaceans need to be included in the global whaling ban and enforced by our governments!

jesus!! It never ends. Whale and dolphin meat is not fit for consumption. The quicker the ban it altogether the better. These creatures need to be cherished not slaughtered. I don't understand it. I never will.

may they die an agonizing slow death from mercury poisoning!!!

Thank you for bringing this to our attention, it is a sickening tragedy that needs to end already. We must believe it is within control in our lifetime. Now who can we collectively write to, contact and be a voice for these beautiful creatures to do something, take a stand, be heard and put a change in motion? It must start somewhere, we must stay now. Find out who we can send a signed petition to, world united to start the wave of change, and let it start right here!

Thank you for bringing this to our attention, it is a sickening tragedy that needs to end already. We must believe it is within control in our lifetime. Now who can we collectively write to, contact and be a voice for these beautiful creatures to do something, take a stand, be heard and put a change in motion? It must start somewhere, we must start now. Find out who we can send a signed petition to, world united to start the wave of change, and let it start right here!

Rob, very interesting article indeed, thanks for that. Let me start saying that I agree partly with you as what I am going to say might wake the wrath up of some here based on some of the comments above.

Is it OK to kill and eat a tuna but so wrong to do so with a porpoise? What do others think? I would love to hear your view on that.

I guess its rather difficult to draw a line on when its ok to kill and eat certain species (regardless if they are fish or mammals) that are as well under pressure but get served no problems in any restaurant from Cadiz to Manchester that it´s worth its salt as ¨wild¨ and örganic¨food and devoured by many of those who are so appalled by other cultures eating small cetaceans, which I personally do not endorse.

But the fact that WDC´s scope does not directly cover other sea life its actually irrelevant as one can´t pick-and-choose from a moral stand point.

I have personally been with whale researchers (many of those who surely fully support the encomiable golas of WDC) in the South of Spain from a very mixed international background not even blinking when eating the very endangered Atlantic Blue Fin Tuna that gets fished in the Med.

So I guess one grows a bit cynic, as I scientist after working in Environmental Sciences for years in the are of Climate Change where as it science in general its expected that one as a career researcher should fly as far as any conference might take you, the top down approach of telling others what not to do and made climate change the trump card of all after we made this mess in the first place could well be interpreted by some example of intelectual imperialism.

Another comment is that using the remains of dead whales as media for local artists and artisans seems again something that might get measured by double standards here, as any one knows you can still buy scrimshaw in the Azores (Portugal). The mostly Sperm Whale bone gets salvaged form the sea floor, and then carved and sold, the Azores are one of the World´s whales sanctuaries even when Spain and Portugal were whaling right until 1985 when after joining the EU they were made to stop, and quite rightly so.

We Spaniards though have the dubious honor of killing the last North Atlantic Right Whale of the Bay of Biscay in the Basque village of Orio back in 1901.

I´ve just come back from a project in the Polynesian Kingdom of Tonga also another Whale Sanctuary as the Humpback whales of the arctic use these waters to mate and calf. Products made with whale bone are also readily available here and very very popular, in fact you can get yourself a whale bone in the international lounge of the tiny airport of Nukualofa, to the horror of the quarantine officials in NZ and Oz being quite hard on the importation of any plant or animal based product. I have seen the little whale bone flukes hanging from the neck of many well respected whale scientist by the way...

In Tonga they were subsistence whaling right until very recently, it was not enough that we pretty much destroyed their Polynesian heritage via mainly English Christian missionaries that we also had to tell them what to do about their fishing practices. Change always has to come within.

But change did came within and happily the Kingdom of Tonga has become a meca for all of those who want to have a whale watching experience like no other in the world as whales are granted total protection. Here a live whales is much more worthy than a dead one now.

Would Denmark´s consider the economical argument as a factor when policing the non IWC quoted smaller species? I don't´think so, Denmark's GDP is many many times overs the small South Pacific Kingdom and one of the richest countries in the world per capita, so its not about comercial value at all but rather about a re-birth of some local and cultural identities.

Some of those people that are so heavily criticised here for feeding their dogs with the carcass of a killer whale have indeed a much deeper connection with their environment than most of us in our cosy urban dwellings writing papers and articles and they need to be brought into the table of a much wider argument, if not by political by some other forms of engagement.

Keep up the good work!

Errata: Whaling in Greenland is regulated by the Greenlandic Government, they don't get their quotas from Denmark and they are not under Danish law.

It seems like the best thing to do is to have an international FULL BAN on ALL whaling and a FULL BAN on the capture of ALL cetaceans EVERYWHERE! Regardless of "tradition" the "meat" has been WELL documented as very toxic and dangerous for ANY use and with all the other threats our oceans, it's inhabitants and ALL life face, it is TIME to TRULY change lifestyles, "traditions" and be MORE aware, MORE sustainable and certainly MORE humane!!! Like SO many have said- "When the oceans die, we die"!!! I hope we ALL WAKE UP BEFORE that happens!!! There is TOO much evidence and we have had our warnings!!! WAKE UP!!! Let's START GIVING BACK and STOP TAKING and DESTROYING!!!

So how many of you like chicken? Or a good piece of steak? In my opinion there is nothing worse than the typical western meat production.

Don't be such hypocrites. What should the east Greenlanders eat, if not what they can hunt themselves? Imported pork from Denmark and vegetables grown in Spain and flown in? How sustainable is that?

In east Greenland there are less than 3000 souls - people that have relied on hunting for thousands of years. Their hunting is fully sustainable. Please don't take away their pride.

Captain Siggi sums it up pretty well: http://www.aurora-arktika.com/to-eat-or-not-to-eat-animals/