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Whaling – A View from Norway

by David Welsh, NOAH - for animal rights

A Seafaring People

If there’s one thing that defines Norwegian identity more than anything, it’s probably the sea. From the Viking longships of a thousand years ago that brought the first Europeans to the American continent, to the hardy polar explorers of the nineteenth century, and Thor Heyerdahl’s voyage across the Pacific on the Kon Tiki in the 1950s, seafaring is part of how Norwegians define themselves as a people and a nation. In Norway’s second largest city – Bergen, on the west coast – there’s a well-known monument to these seafaring traditions. In the heart of the city, by the harbor that has been in continuous use for a thousand years, this monument depicts Viking warriors, polar explorers, fisherman and whalers.

Government Support

For decades, the Norwegian government has brushed aside international objections to the whaling industry. They reject out of hand arguments about conservation and animal welfare, and simply insist that whaling is a perfectly sustainable method of harvesting the natural resources of the oceans, and that all the whales die instantly and without suffering. Furthermore, they claim, whales are responsible for the declining fish stocks in Norwegian waters.

Tell a lie often enough, it is said, and it becomes the truth. Despite the fact that the Norwegian government’s statements on whaling are contradicted even by their own scientists, they have been repeated so often that many ordinary Norwegians simply accept them unquestioningly. Whaling has also become something of a symbol of sovereignty for some Norwegians. Norway lost its independence in 1397, and didn’t get it back until 1905. Whilst Norway is in many ways a self-confident, modern European democracy, it’s still somewhat sensitive to feeling that it’s being pushed around by other countries. In some ways, the international pressure on Norway to abandon whaling has turned whaling into a symbol of Norwegian independence and identity, and in some quarters produced a bloody-minded determination to defend whaling at all costs, whatever the scientific and economic arguments.

A Growing Opposition

But fortunately, not all Norwegians see things in this way. NOAH - for animal rights is Norway’s largest animal rights organization, and was one of the first voices in Norway to speak out against whaling. NOAH was founded in 1989, at a time when even animal welfare and environmental groups in Norway supported whaling. The campaign was not received positively – to be opposed to whaling was almost sacrilegious, unpatriotic even. But things, thankfully, have begun to change. Even ten years ago, anti-whaling activists distributing information on the street would be fortunate to meet even one or two people who agreed with their message. In the last few years though, a growing number of people have been responding positively to NOAH’s message. The opposition is beginning to gather pace, and other Norwegian animal welfare and environmental groups are starting to become more critical to whaling.

How You Can Help

NOAH is currently trying to raise funds to employ an Anti-Whaling Campaign Coordinator, someone who can engage actively with the media, the scientific community and politicians in Norway to further the anti-whaling cause. We are optimistic about the prospects of further turning public opinion against the whaling industry, and getting politicians to question the substantial amount of taxpayers’ money that goes into subsidizing it. As Norway isn’t the easiest place in the world to raise money to campaign against whaling, we are hoping that those who oppose whaling in countries around the world will be able to donate to help us step up our campaign. If you visit our website www.dyrsrettigheter.no you can donate by PayPal. Simply mark your donation “Whaling.” If you would like more information on NOAH’s anti-whaling campaign, e-mail dwelsh@dyrsrettigheter.no.

If you would like to encourage the Norwegian government to abandon its support for the whaling industry, you can contact the embassy at the following address:

Royal Norwegian Embassy
2720 34th Street NW
Washington, DC 20008
Email: emb.washington@mfa.no

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