By John Liang Norwegian whalers killed the highest number of minke whales this season in five years, despite dwindling public appetite for whale meat, according to whale advocates. The Norwegian whaling season came to an official close this week, with at least 575 whales killed and 14 vessels participating in the hunt, according to statistics provided by the Norwegian Fishermen’s Sales Organization (Rafisklaget). Last year, whalers slaughtered 503 whales. However, the higher number of whales killed this season is unlikely to drive increased profits for the whaling industry, according to a new poll commissioned by NOAH, Norway’s largest animal protection NGO, the Animal Welfare Institute (AWI), and the Whale and Dolphin Conservation (WDC). Only 2 percent of Norwegians eat whale meat often, down from 4 percent in 2019, according to the recent poll. Among women surveyed, only 1 percent eat whale meat often, while no one under 35 indicated that they eat whale meat frequently. The survey of 1,037 Norwegians, ages 18 to 87, was conducted by Respons Analyse AS earlier this month. According to Susan Millward, director of AWI’s marine animal program: “For an industry that has been struggling for years to build a domestic market for whale meat, these poll results are likely to be a painful blow. Despite millions of kroner spent on marketing programs over the past two decades — bankrolled, in part, by the Norwegian government — Norwegians are clearly not interested in eating whale meat.” Vanessa Williams-Grey, policy manager at WDC, was even more blunt: “This is nothing short of ecocide. Killing hundreds of minke whales is utterly inexcusable, especially given the essential role they play in our oceans. Whales are our allies in the battle against climate change.” Minke Whale. Whaling was mentioned in Norwegian written sources as early as the year 800, and hunting minke whales with harpoons was common in the 11th century. In the 19th century, they were considered too small to chase, and received their name from a young Norwegian whale-spotter in the crew of Svend Foyn, who harpooned one, mistaking it for a blue whale and was derided for it. By the end of the 1930s, they were the target of coastal whaling by Brazil, Canada, China, Greenland, Japan, Korea, Norway, and South Africa. Minke whales were not then regularly hunted by the large-scale whaling operations in the Southern Ocean because of their relatively small size. However, by the early 1970s, following the overhunting of larger whales such as the sei, fin, and blue whales, minkes became a more attractive target of whalers. By 1979, the minke was the only whale caught by Southern Ocean fleets. Hunting continued apace until the general moratorium on whaling began in 1986. Following the moratorium, most hunting of minke whales ceased. Japan continued catching whales under the special research permit clause in the IWC convention, though in significantly smaller numbers. The stated purpose of the research is to establish data to support a case for the resumption of sustainable commercial whaling. Environmental organizations and several governments contend that research whaling is simply a cover for commercial whaling. The 2006 catch by Japanese whalers included 505 Antarctic minke whales. Between November 2017 and March 2018, Japan reported catches of a total of 333 Minke whales, of which 122 were pregnant females. Although Norway initially followed the moratorium, they had placed an objection to it with the IWC and resumed a commercial hunt of the Common minke whale in 1993. The quota for 2006 was set at 1,052 animals, but only 546 were taken. The quota for 2011 was set at 1286. In August 2003, Iceland announced it would start research catches to estimate whether the stocks around the island could sustain hunting. Three years later, in 2006, Iceland resumed commercial whaling. A 2007 analysis of DNA fingerprinting of whale meat estimated South Korean fishermen caught 827 minke between 1999 and 2003, approximately twice the officially reported number. This raised concerns that some whales were being caught deliberately. In July 2019, Japan resumed commercial whaling activities. The permitted catch for the initial season (July 1 - December 31, 2019) is 227 whales, of which 52 can be minke.