The International Whaling Commission (IWC) authorizes and regulates so-called aboriginal “subsistence” whaling. It is practised today in Greenland (Denmark), Siberia (Russian Federation), Bequia Island (Saint Vincent and the Grenadines) and Alaska (US). This hunt is practised by aboriginal peoples who share strong community, family, social and cultural ties to a traditional dependency on the harvesting of whales and the products derived therefrom. The ultimate goal of this hunt is the personal consumption of meat and the preservation of cultural traditions. The whale meat is not used for commercial purposes.

Some countries that are not part of the IWC also practise traditional whaling. The countries themselves establish and regulate the hunting quotas.

In Canada, northern communities hunt amongst other species belugas and narwhals, as well as bowhead whales every two or three years.

In Indonesia, in the small village of Lamarela, sperm whales have been hunted traditionally with harpoons since the 1640s. The method consists of leaping into the air and striking the animal with a harpoon using one’s strength and weight. Every year about 30-50 sperm whales are killed and shared amongst neighbouring communities.

In the Faroe Islands, a subarctic archipelago located between the Norwegian Sea and the North Atlantic Ocean and which belong to Denmark, a traditional hunt called Grindadráp is practised. The first mention of this hunt dates back to 1584. The primary species targeted is the long-finned pilot whale, a member of the dolphin family. The first step is to locate the group of whales. Traditionally, residents lit a fire to indicate that a group of pilot whales was in sight. Then they surround the group in a semicircle of boats and guide it into a shallow bay or toward a beach, where the animals become stranded. Pilot whales eagerly follow the waves of boats, hence their name. A spear is used to sever the spine at the neck, as the animal must be killed in a single incision and die instantly. If the Faroese have survived on an isolated archipelago where farming is not possible, it is thanks to this hunt. Today, one quarter of the population still consumes pilot whale meat. Each year about 1,000 individuals are harvested and the meat is distributed among the Faroese.

Elsewhere, two other types of hunting exist: commercial whaling and scientific whaling, both of which are regulated by the International Whaling Commission.
Whaling, whether traditional, scientific or commercial, remains a controversial subject.

To learn more:

IWC regulations on traditional whaling

Sperm whale hunting in Indonesia according to Jean Lemire

Sperm whale hunting around the world (only in french)

Whaling around the world

Whale Q&A - 24/8/2015

Camille Bégin Marchand

Camille Bégin Marchand has been employed for GREMM from 2013 to 2018. Although she began as a naturalist at the Marine Mammal Interpretation Centre, Camille’s interest in scientific writing would later land her a position on the Whales Online editorial team. With a passion for biology and a deep affection for the region, she is also pursuing a Master’s degree in forest sciences in collaboration with the Tadoussac Bird Observatory (OOT).

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