LONDON--()--An investigation conducted by WDCS in May 2010 documents how a Greenland company commissions subsistence whalers to hunt whales for them to sell in supermarkets and how that whale meat ends up on dinner plates at 4-star tourist hotels.
“It is very popular. People use it as a snack, to chew on it. We make 1 million kroner [approx € 143.000; US$ 165.000] a year only with this one product.”
Greenland must withdraw its request to increase its whaling quota by ten humpback whales a year until it can demonstrate that its quota is only used to meet genuine nutritional subsistence needs.
Despite the moratorium on commercial whaling, some indigenous peoples are allowed by the International Whaling Commission (IWC) to hunt a limited number of whales to meet long-standing cultural and nutritional subsistence needs. These include the Inuit of Greenland.
WDCS, the Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society, does not oppose legitimate so-called "aboriginal subsistence whaling" (ASW) -- as long as it is humane, sustainable, well managed and based on documented human need for local subsistence use only.
However, an investigation in Greenland conducted in May 2010 revealed that Greenland’s whaling activities do not fulfil all these criteria:
-- Whale products are sold in large quantities in city supermarkets, at very high prices, as well as to 4-star hotel restaurants, which serve "whale steak" as fancy dinners to tourists.
-- Investigators even documented that commercial retail companies commission whale hunters to bring them whales when their stocks are low. This is done with full government knowledge and approval.
High demand for expensive whale snacks vs. real subsistence needs
Although the IWC grants ASW quotas as an exemption to the commercial whaling moratorium to meet the nutritional subsistence needs of indigenous communities, the WDCS investigation revealed that people with a genuine need for whale meat may be denied access because so much is sold at high prices through hotels and supermarkets.
In a secretly filmed conversation with journalists, the director of Arctic Green Foods (AGF), Greenland's largest single buyer of whales, explained: "We are selling the whale meat faster (to supermarkets) than we can get hold of whales." The price in supermarkets for whale meat and mattack is up to 10 times higher than in the local meat markets, yet "it still sells, and sells, and sells!"
When its stocks are low, the processing company commissions fishermen to get them whales. "We asked a particular whaler, with whom we have worked before, if he could get us five whales - and fast, because we need them now. We are sold out." said the manager.
AGF informs the department of fisheries and hunting of the Government of Greenland about its requests and waits for its approval. "We hope we are allowed to get the whales we want, but it depends on the quotas. The Government has the overview, and maybe we get some others."
Either way, the company is keen to get whatever whale they can get hold of, because they can rapidly sell it on to supermarkets: "We are screaming after it!"
A pricey snack and good business for supermarkets
Managers of the main supermarket chains in the towns and cities confirm the high price whale meat and mattak are sold for. "Mattak is more expensive than the best parts of imported beef," said Les Nyborg, manager at Brugsen's supermarket in Nuuk, in an interview with reporters. "It is very popular. People use it as a snack, to chew on it. We make 1 million kroner [approx € 143.000; US$ 165.000] a year only with this one product."
His counterpart, the manager at Pisiffik supermarket agrees: "It's a luxury product."
Supermarket managers also agree that only the original inhabitants of Greenland, the Inuit (or Greenlanders) buy whale. "The Danish inhabitants are not so fond of it," says Nyborg.
Tourists eating "whale steaks" whilst remote villagers lack meat for their subsistence needs
Whale meat intended for the subsistence needs of remote and isolated Inuit populations, also ends up as fancy 4-star dinners in hotel restaurants.
Niels Olsvig, one of the whalers in Ilulissat, acknowledged that "Most of the whale meat is sold to the local meat market and to hotels." In the summer season more than 50 luxury cruise liners have Ilulissat as their destination, as well as daily direct flights from Iceland. "Whale steak" is openly listed on the menu of many of the hotels at prices equivalent to other luxury dinners (e.g. DKK 160, € 22; US$ 27)
Even the supermarkets in Ilulissat sell whale to the tourists. The local Pisiffik manager answers the question as to who buys whale meat simply with: "Inuit and tourists." In the summer months Ilulissat is bustling with tourists from more than 50 cruise liners and daily flights from Iceland.
Greenland cannot argue an increase of its ASW quotas
Faced with these findings, Nicolas Entrup of WDCS says: "We are concerned that whales killed to provide expensive snacks and fancy whale dinners cannot contribute to meeting the legitimate subsistence needs of Greenland."
"Commercial wholesalers commissioning whalers to hunt whales so they can sell meat to tourists or town people, who have all the options of a modern supermarket is not what the IWC intends when it authorises subsistence whaling. This practice clearly limits the availability of whale meat to those in remote settlements who live under harsh circumstances and have a genuine subsistence need for whale meat."
As long as Greenland fails to take its full quota of whales yet its whalers sell meat to supermarkets and hotels, it cannot justify its repeated request for an increase in its whaling quotas
Under the criteria of the International Whaling Commission, an ‘aboriginal subsistence whaling’ quota must be based on “subsistence need” for local use.
However, Greenland claims that the whole vast territory is ‘local’ and does not distinguish between the original people of Greenland, the Inuit, who culturally eat whale meat, and the Danish population of Greenland, who do not in its calculations of who needs the quota.
"The request for a quota of humpback whales must be withdrawn until Greenland can demonstrate that the full available quota is used to meet genuine subsistence needs," concludes Entrup.
Note to Editors
Established back in 1987, the Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society (WDCS), is the leading global charity dedicated to the conservation and welfare of all whales and dolphins (also known as cetaceans). In short, we are the world voice for the protection of these animals, creating pressure to bring about change.
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