Monterey Peninsula Norway whales

Think before you eat whale meat

Norway, Iceland and Japan still hunt whales each year, despite a worldwide moratorium on commercial whaling instituted in 1986. I have seen several restaurants in Oslo advertising whale meat on the menu.

The good summer weather is attributed for a record whaling season in Norway with 729 minke whales killed in 2014. This is the highest number of minke whales caught since Norway resumed commercial whaling in 1993. The 2014 whaling season saw a nearly 25% larger catch than 2013.

minke whale
Minke Whale

The good news? Norway’s quota was 1,286 whales for this 2014 commercial whaling season that just ended. The actual annual catches are generally far below the quota established for the annual Norwegian whaling season. The basic economics for whaling don’t add up. Norway’s whaling industry is heavily subsidized by the government while demand for whale meat across the domestic population is decreasing.

Much of the demand for whale meat in Norway’s restaurants is tourist driven.


Oslo Menu Whale Meat
Oslo restaurant street sign for whale meat dinner

The International Whaling Commission (IWC) instituted a ‘Zero-Catch Limits’ on commercial whaling in 1986, although participation is voluntary. Norway used to kill around 2,000 minke whales each year in the 1970s. Norway resumed commercial whaling in 1993 after concluding the common minke whale population was large enough in the North Atlantic to allow sustainable hunting. Iceland resumed commercial whaling in 2006 with the hunting of minke and fin whales. The IWC keeps a record of annual whale kills by whale species and number killed by each country.

The IWC population estimate for common minke whales in the North Atlantic is about 180,000 whales. Minke whales are not listed as an endangered species on the IUCN Red List.

What is a minke whale?

Minke whales are the second to smallest of the baleen whales, in the same rorqual family as humpback whales and blue whales. Small is relative since these marine mammals are typically 25 to 35 feet in length and weigh 4 to 6 tons. Minke whales typically live from 30 to 50 years. They are distinguished from other whale species by a white band on their flippers. Common minke whales are also known as northern minke whales.

The more numerous Antarctic minke whales, also known as southern minke whales, are a different species. Japan is the primary predator of Antarctic minke whales under an IWC loophole permitting scientific research hunting. The meat still ends up in Japanese markets.

whale meat harpoon
Rorbua Restaurant Oslo serves whale meat advertised as ‘Northern Norwegian Food’.

Rorbua is one of the top rated restaurants in Oslo. The sign on the street says, “Come in and try our delicious Northern Norwegian food”. The harpoon gun was a clue to me that whale meat is on the menu.

This article by Brian Palmer about this year’s Norwegian whaling season includes a video showing how a minke whale was killed by a Japanese whaling vessel. Whale: It’s What’s Not for Dinner. Anywhere.

Meet Us Don’t Eat Us – Iceland

Iceland conservationists launched a “Meet Us Don’t Eat Us” campaign in 2010 to encourage tourists not to buy whale meat at restaurants.

Think before you eat whale meat

I have been thinking about whales quite a bit this summer. I have talked with dozens of tourists in 2014 who came to Monterey Bay, California in the hope of seeing a live whale in the sea. I have been around hundreds of tourists as we watched humpback and gray whales surface along the California coast this year. It seemed like every week there were more people flocking to Monterey Bay as news spread around the world about the numerous sightings of humpback whales close to shore.

For the past three days I have been on the coast of southeastern Norway and spent many hours watching the sea. The sea has been calm. I have seen dozens of ducks and two beautiful white swans. Even saw some jellies in the water. But there has been no sign of marine mammals in this part of Norway on the southeast coast. Perhaps I’ll see more sea life in Bergen this week.

If you want to eat whale meat, come to Norway and plunk down your credit card for an authentic and expensive restaurant meal.

But, if you want to meet whales, then I suggest you come to Monterey Bay, California where whales feed the appetite of tens of thousands of tourists each month over and over again.

That is truly sustainable whaling culture.

humpbacck whale
Humpback whale lunge feeding. One day in July 2014, I sat on Moss Landing beach at Monterey Bay, California photographing excited tourists whale watching.


Norway whale catch reaches highest number since 1993 – The Guardian UK (August 25, 2014)

Norwegian whaling – based on a balanced ecosystem – – the Official Norwegian site (March 19, 2013)

Norwegian Whaling (pdf) – Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society (June 2011)

Minke Whales Feast Under Antarctic Ice, Study Finds – Their frequent gulps for krill is fastest “lunge” rate ever observed. – National Geographic (August 2014)

Loyalty Traveler – Humpback whales in our faces at Moss Landing beach (July 29, 2014)

Loyalty Traveler – Shore Whalers History at Point Lobos State Park, California (June 30, 2013) is a piece I wrote about 19th century whaling culture near Monterey. About 250 whales were killed and processed in a 22 year period, primarily for lamp oil.


Ric Garrido of Monterey, California is writer and owner of Loyalty Traveler.

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  • IMH September 8, 2014

    “If you want to eat whale meat, come to Norway and plunk down your credit card” — that’s all very well, Ric, but *which* credit card?

    Seriously: thanks for the thoughtful and well illustrated post.

  • RW September 8, 2014

    Great post!

  • Ric Garrido September 8, 2014

    @IMH – I’d give you a list of credit cards to use if I had affiliate marketing kick-backs like so many other bloggers. Since I don’t, I’ll simply suggest the credit card you have that you know the PIN number for making charges. Otherwise you might have to work as crew on a whaling ship to pay off your bill when the restaurant won’t accept your card.

    (I see you have a German email address so probably not an issue since you are likely used to credit card PINs. Warning for American tourists though.)

  • Cedarglen September 8, 2014

    A great post; thank you. NOT eating whale meat of any species is an easy choice for me. I had the opportunity to sample some ‘excellent quality’ and ‘well prepared’ whale on the early 70s: I did not care for it. In more recent years, since the substance has become Red-Listed, the choice is even easier. Frankly, If Japan, Norway and Iceland *truly needed* the meat protein to feed their populations, with careful regulation some harvest of some species cold be arranged and supervised. Fact is, they Do Not! The entire harvest is about substantial PROFIT, not the claimed subsistence Feeding, or in Japan’s case, “Research.” Nuts. My God, for the most part even the pesky Russians now honor the whaling ban, *most of the time.* So why does it continue? Why do we “Do-Gooders” not impose sanctions of these three nations? 1) The at-risk dollar amounts are tiny, at least in relative terms and 2) Major defense plans (and sales) demand that we have continuing access to the territory of these offending nations. If we resume preaching at them about their culinary tastes by imposing sanctions, they will raise the cost of defense access – or expel us. That’s world politics 101 and yes, even overly idealistic Amerika can be encouraged to look the other way at times.

  • Tokyo Hyatt Fan September 8, 2014

    What makes a whale any more or less deserving of being eaten than a cow, pig, or chicken?

  • GoVegan September 8, 2014

    Support Sea Shepherd and help fight those are are determined to destroy the oceans.

  • Ric Garrido September 8, 2014

    @GoVegan – I read several Sea Shepherd articles when researching Norwegian whaling.

    Faroe Islands –

    Six Europeans found guilty by Faroese court today for hindering the hunt of pilot whales.

  • Andy September 8, 2014

    Ric… One of the few boarding area bloggers who has a conscience.

    Respect. Keep in up, maybe people like you will make a tiny difference. I’m trying too with sharks. However it is hugely hard, people don’t want to process facts of things that are deeply wrong. I won’t give up. You shouldn’t either. Again…. Respect.

  • Ric Garrido September 8, 2014

    @Hyatt Tokyo Fan – There is the ethical question of whether or not to kill and eat any animals. Vegetarianism is an option.

    The main difference I’d say are cows, pigs, sheep and chickens are domesticated and have been used as a food source by humans for thousands of years.

    Whales are not domesticated food sources and have been killed and depleted worldwide primarily for industrial uses like oil, not as a food source. The vast majority of whales killed on the planet by humans occurred in the past hundred years. At the rate whales were being killed, the whales would likely be gone if the worldwide hunting had continued.

  • Tokyo Hyatt Fan September 9, 2014

    Thanks for clarifying your position.

    I assume, then, that you are also opposed to the consumption of tuna? They are probably in even more danger than whales right now.

    Or do they get a pass because there aren’t any cool tuna watching shows to be found?

  • Ric Garrido September 9, 2014

    I primarily eat seafood. I try to be mindful and buy seafood that is considered sustainable by an organization I trust to be knowledgeable on the matter.

    There are probably great tuna watching shows to be found if you search for them.

    Apparently we agree to disagree.

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