Wailing about Svalbard: Nearly 3 million sign petition protesting whaling in Norway as season begins

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If you’re OK with whaling, you’re OK with being eaten by a cannibal.

That’s among the most popular reactions to the barrage of media coverage as Norway began its annual six-month whale hunting season this month with an increased quota of 999 minkes, up from 880 last year. The number of protests is equally shrill as an anti-whaling video featured on Al Jazeera’s Facebook page has been viewed more than seven million times in a week and a petition to ban the hunts has received nearly 2.7 million signatures.

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A whale is harvested aboard a boat during Norway’s hunting season in 2016 in the NRK documentary “Slaget om Kvalen” (“Battle of Agony”). Screencap from NRK video.

The hunts, which take place in Svalbard and (mostly) other waters, are always controversial, but received additional attention this year when NRK broadcast the documentary “Slaget om Kvalen” (“Battle of Agony”) in March that features lots of gristly footage and states 90 percent of whales killed are females and most of them are pregnant (a claim numerous media and advocacy organizations have mischaracterized as 90 percent of hunted whales are pregnant females).

Coverage of the hunts has snowballed since, perhaps most drastically illustrated by a video by Avaaz, a U.S. advocacy organization whose issues include animal rights, posted on the Facebook page Dodo Impact. The 47-second video is far tamer than most activist videos in terms of showing bloody carcasses, but the comments definitely aren’t.

“There is no humane way to KILL any sentient being,” wrote a person using the name Ali Mirza in what at point was the “top” comment of about 1,000 on the video’s Facebook page. “‘Humane killing’ does not exist, just as ‘humane slavery’ or “humane bombing’ do not exist…for those of you who think humane killing is a real thing, ask yourself, would you be OK with a bunch of cannibals ‘humanely’ killing and eating you? Didn’t think so.”

Other high-ranked commenters, beyond expressing various environmental or moral objections, also make assertions such as “psychology has proven that there is a link to those people who abuse and torture animals and those people who murder human beings” as well as the inevitable scapegoating such as “enjoy your Muslim migrants and all of the wonderful culture they bring with them.”

But the discussion is far from one-sided, with many challenging the most egregious factual claims of anti-whaling activists, the taboos and farming practices of animals killed in other countries, and condemning Norway as a whole for an activity involving a tony percentage of the fishing fleet.

“Isn’t it just as bad killing cows?” wrote Line Pettersen Vassbotn, a resident of Lofoten (one of the areas where hunting takes place) who states she is opposed to the hunting. “Killing pigs? Chickens? Killing wild animals for pleasure? Please take a look at your own country and its people before criticizing and bashing another country.”

Norway and Iceland are the only countries officially practicing commercial whaling in defiance of a ban imposed by the International Whaling Commission in 1986, although Japan engages in whaling for “research” that killed 333 minkes during the just-completed season. Norway states minkes aren’t an endangered species, with more than 100,000 along the coasts where the hunts take place.

Norwegian whalers have killed well below their quota during the past decade. The annual quota was 1,286 between 2010 and 2015, for example, with the number of whales killed ranging between 464 and 736.

Less of ten percent of the catch in recent years has occurred in Svalbard in recent years, although totals have varied widely by year due largely to weather. In 2015, conditions were so bad during the initial months an industry representative said he was aware of no whalers in the archipelago. But last year a record 37 whales were captured by one vessel during a nine-day period, all in Svalbard’s waters.

 

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