Theater of Cruelty

A bloody affair

For Norwegian fishermen it is honest work. For Greenpeace, it is crime. The controversy is about the capture of minke whales in the North Atlantic, where the harpoon spits hundreds of whales each year that end up in Norwegian fishing disks. By Philip D. Armor


[North Sea] As the whale slowly lifts aboard the tail, the animal's own heaviness squeezes the last remaining life out of the enormous body. Blood sprouts from the blowhole, and a sharp red semicircle flushes around the boat's hull, in stark contrast to the Barents Sea's black surface.

It is half past five in the morning, and we sail just off the coast of Finnmark, not far from Båtsfjord. This is our first catch, after twelve days at sea. The five Norwegian whales

The prisoners, dwarfed by rain next to the huge minke whale, place the knife in the thick blubber and divide it into meter-sized squares. During the heyday of whaling in the 1800th century, lard was an expensive and sought-after commodity. From this they made whale oil, which was used, among other things, in lamps.

In modern Norway, whale meat is a delicacy on the dinner table, but unlike consumers in Japan and Greenland, Norwegians do not eat kale. Therefore, it is now thrown overboard.

The crew systematically cuts out 70-

kilos of steaks from the whale's back, stomach and tail. One of the fishermen becomes aware of my staring gaze. He puts his teeth into the bloody knife and snorts at me for pirate before humbly chopping the knife into the whale meat again.

It takes the men under an hour to turn the three-and-a-half-ton daredevil whale into a knotty scrap and put the red meat, worth close to NOK 300.000 in stores, on ice. When the job is done, they release the almost two tons of heavy scrap and let it slip over the boat trip. It sinks like an anchor.

- Have a good time, says captain Leif Einar Karlsen.

- Thanks for the meat.

Totally normal

The United States was once a large whaling nation, but the industry stopped in 1972 when the last American whale processing company, in Richmond, California, closed down. A loud environmental movement thus put an end to an industry that had flourished in America since the colonial days. That same year, the UN passed a resolution calling for a halt to all whaling, and President Richard Nixon signed a new law banning all commercial whaling in US waters.

For Norwegians, whaling is a little controversial Many of the country's two million households still enjoy the expensive meat on special occasions. At the moment, the whalers are clinging to one relatively widespread species: Dare Whale. It winters in tropical southern latitudes, but no one knows exactly where. When spring comes, it moves north along the Norwegian coast to revel in the Arctic. Greenpeace, which is strongly opposed to Norwegian whaling, estimates that there are about 67.000 minke whales in the North Atlantic.

Norway has had to endure loud protests over the years, but has evaded attention by hunting in its own waters. This year, Norway raises the minke whale ratio to 1052 animals and will allow the fleet to hunt in international waters. When asked if Norwegian whalers want catch quotas for larger species, Rune Frøvik, general manager of the Hoge Nord Alliance, answers:

- They are clearly interested in it.

The whaling vessel "Sofie" is worth about NOK 1,7 million, and the vessel's owners Leif Einar Karlsen and Thor Raymond Skarheim could get more than NOK XNUMX million just by selling their fishing quota. However, the whaling quota, which is distributed by the Norwegian authorities, cannot be transferred to others.

The brutalities of the past

The harpoon's tip is designed to push through the whale's skin as it strikes and causes the harpoon to dig even deeper. It is also equipped with a hook that sits in the kettle, and as soon as the harpoon is half a meter into the whale meat, this hook triggers a grenade explosion that can destroy up to 30 kilograms of meat or internal organs.

Norwegians claim that whaling is a tradition with deep roots in the people, but they do not speak as loudly about the industrial brutalities of the past. The invention of the Norwegian whaler Sven Foyn, a cannon-fired grenade harpoon, caused the whaling period of the bloodiest whaling from the 1880s to the 1960s. According to official Norwegian statistics, Norwegian whalers accounted for 60 percent of the world's whaling in 1930 and 1931 – a total of 25.952 whales. Whaling remained a fundamental part of the Norwegian economy until the fifties, but after whalers made major inroads into the populations of the largest species, the industry had to find other tools.

The crew at "Sofie" fulfilled their 2005 quota of 15 minke whales in seven weeks. Over 20 tonnes of meat, worth almost NOK 700.000, gave the whalers a profit of more than NOK 60.000 each.

Whaling accounts for a very small part of Norwegian trade, only 0.002 per cent of the gross domestic product. Nevertheless, it has undivided support from the authorities and receives overwhelming support from the country's inhabitants. The 50-year-old guide Jann Engstad says that his relatives in Oslo have only one thing to put on whaling: There is not enough meat in the shops, and it is too expensive.

Never misses

"Sofie "'s hunt gets off to a slow start thanks to persistent bad weather. To make the hours go, I read Moby Dick, a novel Skarheim obviously has little to spare.

- That book gives the wrong impression, he protests one afternoon, and pulls out a photo


- This is how whaling really is.

The album makes Herman Melville's gruesome descriptions fade – and Skarheim realizes that he is sending the wrong message.

- Do not photograph too much blood, he says.

I am far into dreamland as a loud, loud sound makes me aroused. That's what "Sofie" follows the whale's movements until we're about 15 feet away and ... pang! The cannon's powerful, six-ton ​​heavy cable pulls the ship. I hear the dumb sound of a grenade exploding. Skarheim has shot a blink just behind the whale's left hatch. The harpoon is stuck deep in the whale's chest.

- Everything ready! roper Olsen.

Karlsen pulls the boat in reverse and the whale is pulled in.

Over the next 16 hours we will kill four more whales. Skarheim never misses, and the steaks tower up and eventually cover every available centimeter of tire.

of victory

The only thing uncertain in the process is how quickly the whales die. Skarheim had previously assured me that the exploding grenade "knocks the whale unconscious, and it dies almost immediately by shock or blood loss." That was true for the first whale, but the next four suffer a good deal. The harpoon strikes muscles and seems to make the whales mad with fear and pain. One of them shoots out of the sea and squeals like a fish on the hook.

The injured animals try two techniques to escape – to dive or swim all they can across the water – but the escape never lasts more than ten minutes. The whales, exhausted from standing against the boat, have given up the fight when the winch finally pulls them to the bow, where Skarheim waits with the rifle. He fires at the whale's brain until it stops moving.

After the fourth prey, a male, the next whale is estimated to be too large to fit what is left of the open deck. In victory of victory, Captain Karlsen cuts off the dead male's penis and holds the half-meter-long genitals up to his chest.

- Damn nice tie, he jokes.

When we eat lunch the next day, Skarheim rubs on his stiff arms and says:

- These are just for decoration today. Useless.

- Yep, says another.

- It costs to be a guy.

The text has previously been printed in Outside Magazine.

Translated by Marit O. Bromark

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