Whaling in Norway

Norway hunts minke whale's under an 'objection' to the International Whaling Commission's (IWC) global ban, or moratorium, on commercial whaling. The hunts rely on state subsidies and the government is constantly searching for new markets to exploit, with young people and tourists being major targets. Norway has aggressively fought to retain its right to hunt whales despite it being unnecessary, uneconomical and unquestionably cruel.

Current whaling

Norway kills minke whales under a self-allocated quota, currently 999 for the 2017 hunting season (up from 880 in 2016, and 1,286 for 2010-2015 inclusive), although the number of whales killed over the years has usually fallen far short of the official quota. Both the quota, and the number of whales actually killed, have fluctuated over the years, but between 2000-2015, an average of 570 whales have been taken each year.  However, 2014 saw a larger number taken (736), whilst the 2015 hunt saw 660 whales killed, and 590 whales in 2016.

Recent History

Norway was one of the few governments to take out an ‘objection’ to the moratorium. When the ban on commercial whaling came into effect in 1986, Norway initially undertook a small-scale scientific hunt of minke whales then, in 1993, it announced that it would resume commercial whaling under this ‘objection’.  Minke whaling in Norway is conducted by fishermen, the vast majority of whom resume fishing activities outside the whaling season. Prior to the whaling ban, Norway killed approximately 2,000 minke whales per year and exported over half of the products from these hunts to Japan.  Quotas have risen in recent years; however, the actual kill tally by the end of the whaling season inevitably falls far short of the possible quota. In 2013, for example, Norway self-allocated a quota of 1,286 whales yet actually killed 590 minke whales (125 more than the previous year).

Domestic Market and tourism

Norwegian whale meat is a highly-subsidised product, with subsidies equal to almost half of the gross value of all whale meat landings made through the Rafisklaget, the Norwegian Fishermen’s Sales Organisation. In April 2010, representatives of the Norwegian fishing industry called on the Fisheries Minister to raise subsidies to the whaling industry, as they had difficulty selling whale meat. Since then, the industry has desperately tried to create a new interest for whale meat within the Norwegian population and tourism sector. One angle is to target young, ‘hip’ national and international customers who attend popular Norwegian music festivals such as Bukta, Træna or Inferno Festival, with products like whale burgers or whale sushi.

However, attempts in recent years to popularize the sale of whale burgers have largely flopped. Since 1992, the Norwegian government has spent around US$ 5 million on PR and lobbying campaigns to promote its whaling and seal hunting industries. In April 2013, Innovation Norway, a state-owned company, offered a three-year grant to Fisheries Park AS to develop a marketing strategy, ‘brand association’ and quality standard for Norwegian whale meat and products on behalf of the whaling industry.

Tourists are also a prime target for the marketing of minke whale meat, which is widely available in supermarkets, dockside fish markets, restaurants and aboard cruise ships. It may be found on restaurant menus and in buffets or barbeques, and can also appear unlabelled in dishes identified as ‘traditional’, ‘local specialities’ or as part of an ‘Arctic menu’ or ‘A Taste of Norway’. Skincare products and supplements containing whale, such as whale oil capsules and skin creams, are also widely available. Download a flyer of this information to give to friends and relatives that may be visiting Norway.


Prior to the ban on commercial whaling, Norway exported over 50% of its whale products to Japan. After the moratorium, Norway originally agreed to halt trade in whale products, despite the fact that it maintains a reservation to the Appendix 1 listing of whales at CITES.  However, in 2001, the Norwegian government decided to resume exports of meat and blubber to Japan, despite the IWC and CITES bans.

A shipment of 5 tons of whale meat was exported to Japan in 2008 and cleared for sale in February of 2009, however in the end, the meat was not sold due to bacterial contamination and high lactic acid levels. In December 2012, 30kg of Norwegian minke whale meat was shipped to Japan under an export permit granted to Myklebust Trading AS by the Norwegian Directorate of Nature Management (DIRNAT).

A further export, this time in February 2013, saw 4,250 kg of frozen whale belly meat, blubber, tails and fins leave Ålesund, Norway, bound for Japan. The shipment sailed aboard the ECL Commander to Rotterdam where the meat transferred to the NYK Olympus before sailing on in early March, transiting Le Havre, Hamburg and Southampton, before heading on to Japan via the Suez Canal.

Since 2003, there have also been continued shipments of whale meat from Norway to the Faroe Islands. For example,  In 2012, 473 kg of minke whale meat was exported to a supermarket in Thorshavn.

Pharmaceuticals and animal feed

In 2005, a government-funded study linked with the National Institute for Nutrition and Seafood Research (NIFES) looked into the commercial possibilities of whale blubber and oil.  NIFES continues to support related research, for example a 2012 study into the level of contaminants in minke whale meat.Between 2010 and 2011, Nofima (the Norwegian Institute of Food, Fisheries and Aquaculture Research and Europe’s largest institute for applied research within the fields of fisheries, aquaculture and food), supported a study researching the possible health effects of cold-pressed whale oil.

Whale meat is sold as pet food in Norway since this ‘special use’ is allowed by the Ministry for Fisheries and Coastal Affairs. Myklebust Havalprodukter AS, the main retailer in Norwegian minke whale meat, specifically advertises the use of whale meat as dog food (“hundemat”), and  Norwegian pet food company, Vom & Hundemat, includes whale meat in its mix for sled dogs.