The North Atlantic Marine Mammal Commission


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Hunting and Utilisation

The fin whale has been the focus of exploitation since the advent of both vessels fast enough to catch them and harpoon guns effective in killing them. See under Hunting methods for a description of the methods currently used in Iceland and Greenland.

The fin whale has mainly been utilised as a resource of initially oil for industrial purposes until the 1930s and 1940s, and then later more as an important food resource. Bones and offal have traditionally been either discarded or processed and used as fertilizer.

The main parts of the whale anatomy targetted for utilisation have changed over time. In recent times for example, the baleen, originally highly prized, has been redundant, and increasingly as much as possible of the whale has been used for food. The blubber, originally used for oil production, has been of less importance. It is the red muscle - especially the back and side fillets - that are the most desirable sources of meat for human consumption. Utilisation varies between the different NAMMCO countries.


The three major products, meat, blubber and the throat pleats (ventral grooves) constitute almost all of the edible production. The other parts of the whale that are considered edible varies between regions and villages, particularly with respect to the internal organs (e.g. liver, heart and kidneys) and tongue which can vary from being considered a delicacy to being considered inedible. Sometimes, the captain retains the heart and kidney for use by his family. The flukes are considered a delicacy in Illulissat.

The intestines are generally not eaten, but in some places (e.g. Sisimiut) the tongue and intestines may be used to feed dog teams.

Greenlandic cooking books offer many recipes for whale meat, but often do not distinguish between whale species and talk just of whale meat.


As in the Faroe Islands (see below), fin whales become hunted in the modern whaling era. The tradition for human consumption is therefore relatively recent. Most of the fin whale meat was exported, but ventral groove blubber was sold locally - sour pickled whale blubber - "súr hvalrengi" - being a local delicacy.

The whale meat has always been cheap red meat and compensated for beef in poor people's diet. The cooking resembles beefsteak cuisine (Ólafsdóttir pers. comm.). Check out the following link for whale recipes.

THaug Iceland fin flensing 1978 15 THaug Iceland fin at WS 1978 6Flensing of a fin whale at the Icelandic whaling station in 1978. On the right, special attention is given to the ventral groves. Photos: T. Haug, Institute of Marine Research, Norway.

Faroe Islands

Fin whales were only caught in the Faroe Islands from modern whaling times in the last 1800s, when whaling stations were also developed. There were seven stations in total, the first (Gjanoyri) opening in 1894. After flensing at the whaling station, the blubber was rendered to oil and used for margarine production.

Skeletons and entrails were thrown back to the sea. The meat was used for human consumption, either boiled or fried. The tongue stock, veined with fat, was also used but had to be salted for some days and then boiled and served with horseradish cream sauce (Bloch pers. comm.).


The hunting of fin whales and other rorquals, using steam powered vessels and exploding harpoons, was pioneered by Norway in the latter half of the 19th century. The main product from the hunt was always the blubber which was rendered into oil at shore stations. The oil in turn was used as lamp oil and in the manufacture of soap and margarine. Most of the production of the Norwegian hunt was exported to other markets. At some shore stations the flayed carcass of the whale was cooked then dried to make a rich fertilizer.

The meat of the fin whale has never been successfully marketed within Norway. However some export of fin whale meat to Japan took place in the 20th century.