Hunting in NAMMCO member countries
The overall aim for a successful hunt is to kill the animal instantaneously or as quick as possible into a manner that maximises hunter’s safety and the efficiency of the hunt while minimizing animal suffering.
A prerequisite for responsible resource management is to have mechanisms to monitor the resources not only with respect to abundance and trends but also hunting methods and utilisation. In recognition of this, NAMMCO established an International Observation Scheme in 1998 and has since contracted observers to monitor hunting activities in member countries on an annual basis.
The current Observer Scheme came into force in 2019 and provide a mechanism for NAMMCO to oversee whether recommendations made by NAMMCO are implemented and national regulations are adhered to. It continues to ensure international transparency in whaling and sealing operations in the region.
Marin mammal hunting is subject to detailed regulations laid down by the Faroese Parliament and the Ministry of Fisheries.
Five whale species can be hunted in the Faroe Islands. Long-finned pilot whale, white-sided- and white-beaked dolphins and bottlenose dolphin are subject to drive hunts and the harbour porpoises are shot.
When a school of whales is sighted the district administrator is notified and after consulting with the whaling foremen a decision regarding which whaling bay to use is taken, informed by the prevailing currents. A whaling bay must meet certain criteria and there are currently 23 authorised whaling bays in the Faroes. Once the decision on location is made, the boats form a semi-circle behind the whales. Stones are thrown into the water to make air bubbles, which help herd the whales in the desired direction. Upon approaching the whaling bay, the boats are arranged by size. The smallest boats which can get closest to the beach, are in the front row, while the larger boats are kept behind. In this manner, the school is beached or driven so close to the beach that people can wade out to the whales to secure them for killing.
The killing method has changed very little throughout history. The whale is secured with a blowhole hook, after which the spinal lance is positioned in the midline between the blowhole and the dorsal fin at one hand’s breadth behind the blowhole and directed at an angle approximately 10 degrees backward. With a single thrust followed by sideways movements the spinal cord and the surrounding blood vessels are severed, directly followed by severing the jugulars and the carotids with a whaling knife so that the whale can be bled properly. Once the cut is made, the whale lies completely paralyzed and unconscious.
New legislation was introduced in 2015 and hunters are now obliged to have certification following an accredited course in pilot whaling to be entitled to kill whales. The course includes a review of the NAMMCO instruction manual on pilot whaling.
Monitoring and reporting
Monitoring and systematic reporting of the drive hunts take place through the district administrator’s reports to the Ministry of Fisheries. For each drive, information is reported on where and when the school of whales was spotted, the whaling bay, total killing time, number of whales, size and sex, number of participating boats, number of hunters on shore and in boats and if there have been any violations of the regulations as well as appraisal, marking and sharing of the whales.
If harbour porpoises are hunted, hunters are obliged to report the number shot to the district administrators, who then report to the Ministry of Fisheries.
The only seal species presently found in the Faroes is the grey seal. The species was not protected and until new legislation came in 2020 the seals were intentionally killed as nuisance animals around fish farms in the Faroes fjords. No specific legislation pertaining to the hunting of seals exited and they were shot with rifles. In 1969 new weapons legislation banned the use of rifles as hunting weapons in the Faroes. However, in response to complaints from fish farmers, permission to kill seals with rifles of minimum calibre 6.5 mm using hollow pointed bullets was granted. In 2020 a new Executive Order came into force that prohibits all intentional killing of marine mammals around fish farms so in effect the grey seal is now protected in the Faroes.
Up until the 2020 Executive Order came into force, fish farms were obliged to report the number of seals shot to the Ministry of Fisheries. The Faroes weapon legislation require completion of a firearms training course and possession of a firearms license for hunters to handle weapons.
Marine mammal hunting is the responsibility of the Ministry of Fisheries, Hunting and Agriculture. The Ministry regulates and administers the hunts, while the Fisheries License Control Authority, through their wildlife officers, supervise and control the activities. The Ministry issues regulations that detail the scope and requirements for obtaining hunting permits, reporting requirements and sanctions. Large cetaceans, narwhal, beluga and walrus hunting are regulated by a quota system whereas hunting of other cetaceans and seals are not, though the municipality may set local regulations.
Minke whale, fin whale, bowhead whale and humpback whale hunts with harpoon gun
The hunt is opportunistic and seasonal, i.e., the hunters are not full-time whalers. Fin whales are caught either by two boats of a minimum length of 30 ft working together, or by one boat of a minimum length of 36 ft. One boat with a minimum length of 36 ft is required for the humpback whale. The bowhead is caught by three boats of a minimum length of 36 ft working together. The majority of minke whales are also taken by this method, by one boat with a length of 30-70 ft. Each boat must be equipped with one certified 50 mm Kongsberg harpoon gun, which is checked every second year.
The primary hunting weapon is a harpoon with the Norwegian penthrite “Whale Grenade 99”. This whale-grenade was produced for minke whales but has been modified to accommodate the hunt of the larger whales (the triggering cord being extended from 40 cm to 90 cm, and the explosive charge increased from 30 g to 45 g of penthrite). Primary and secondary weapons for the three larger whale species are the modified “Whale Grenade 99”. Gunners shoot the whale in the heart and lung region by aiming at an area close to the pectoral fins.
The secondary weapon for the minke whale is either a new grenade or rifle of a minimum calibre of 7.62 mm (30.06) employing full mantled bullets. Some hunters use solid round-nosed bullets together with rifles with higher calibre (.375), due to their better penetration. Rifle shots are aimed at the neck, in the back of the animal’s head.
Hunting generally occurs in good sea conditions only (<Beaufort 3), as the main method of hunting is stealth. Trips generally last less than 24 hours and once a vessel has caught a whale it tows it to the nearest suitable flensing site. Hunting usually occurs within 60 nm of the home port of the vessel and depending on conditions up to 10 nm offshore.
Collective minke whale hunt
The collective minke whale hunt is mostly carried out in settlements where there are no boats with mounted harpoon cannons. The collective minke whale hunt is the only hunt of large whales in areas with little infrastructure, such as East Greenland and West Greenland north of Disko Bay. However, in recent years there have been notable changes to this structure. In response to repeated applications from municipalities and from the fishermen and hunters organization – KNAPK, the Government has decided to also allow the collective hunt in places with harpoon cannon boats due to a decrease in the numbers of these boats, in order to secure the supply of fresh meat. Also as a reaction to claims from owners of harpoon cannon boats the Government is considering a new structure in order to reduce struck and lost beginning from the 2022 hunting season.
A minimum of five skiffs are required to carry out a hunt, but normally it will be around 8 -10 small (usually around 19 ft and never more than 29 ft) boats equipped with outboard motors. Each boat generally contains from 2-4 people. Boats of larger size without harpoon guns can also take part, but not as the leading boat. Each skiff must be equipped with at least one hand harpoon with line and buoys. This harpoon is attached to the whale at the first opportunity, to prevent the animal from sinking. During the course of the hunt, hunters attempt to herd the whale towards shallow and inshore waters.
The weapons used are rifles of a calibre of 7.62 mm. (30.06) or larger using full mantled bullets. As a rule, the whales are first wounded and then secured with the hand harpoons. When possible, the hand harpoon is used before wounding the animal. One hunter is the designated leader and it is his task to secure the animal with the hand harpoon. Once a whale has been secured, it is killed by shots aimed at the neck. Round-nosed solid bullets together with rifles of higher calibre, such as .375, are often used to kill the whale.
Small whale hunts
Harbour porpoise, white-sided and white-beaked dolphins, long finned pilot whales, killer whales, narwhal and beluga are the small cetacean species that are hunted in Greenland. Of these only narwhal and beluga are restricted by national regulations (see below). The hunting method is essentially similar for all the species; a collective hunt from small, open motorboats. The whales are shot with rifles with a minimum calibre of .30-06 and full metal jacket bullets (an exception is the smaller harbour porpoise where the recommended calibre is .222). The hunter aims at the thorax region which will kill the whale rapidly by hitting the heart, lungs or vertebrae. The shot ranges vary from 5 – 30 meters. After a successful shot the hunter secures the whale with a long-shafted gaff hook (nissik) before it sinks.
In the narwhal and beluga hunt which takes place in the open sea and ice-cracks, the whale will first be harpooned to attach floats to secure the whale before being shot. The desired target is the brain, but the neck and heart are also regarded as good target points. Harpoon hunts from qayaqs takes place close to the ice edge in North Greenland. Two hunters will often cooperate and when the whale is spotted from shore, they will very quietly embark the kayak. They will secure the whale with handheld harpoons and then shoot it using 30.06 or .375 calibre rifle with full metal jacket pointed ammunition. It is not a national requirement to secure the animals before shooting. However, some regional regulations recommend harpooning to secure the animal before killing it, and within the Melville Bay protected reserve this is a requirement.
In East and North Greenland, hunters are allowed to hunt with nets during the dark period of the year when there is no daylight. The nets are set in open water or under the sea-ice, and they are checked daily. An average of 20 whales are hunted by this method annually.
Seals and walrus
Six species of seal are found in the waters surrounding Greenland. These are harp seal, ringed seal, hooded seal, harbour seal, bearded seal and grey seal. Today, mainly harp and ringed seals but also, to a much lesser extent, hooded seals are hunted. From 1 December 2010 the harbour seal and grey seal are completely protected pending biological advice indicating that the stocks are in a condition to be hunted. For all seal species lactating female and pup pairs and pups with lanugo hair (white coats) are protected.
Hunting methods vary depending on season, region and species. The hunt for harp and hooded seals takes place all year around, but predominantly during summer and fall in open water. The hunter locates the seal and shoots it with a rifle. In northern Greenland, during the dark winter months, netting is the prevailing method used by hunters to catch ringed seals. The use of nets is a local small-scale hunt compared to the rifle hunt. In spring, when ringed seals haul-out on the ice, hunters use white screens to sneak up to an appropriate shooting distance and shoot the seal in the head.
No quotas are set for the Greenland seal hunt, because of the very large seal populations and relatively small sustainable hunt. Hunters are required to report their catches to the Ministry on an annual basis. Seals can be hunted by all Greenlandic residents, provided they have either a fulltime or a parttime hunting permit. The rifle is the most common weapon for seal hunting. The .30-06 calibre is common in some districts during the winter, while the calibres .17, .22 Mag., and .222 are the most common in the spring and summer hunts. There are no specific guidelines defining the types of rifles that can be used, however the ammunition used must have a muzzle energy E100 > 160 Joule, for shotgun the minimum allowed calibre is 20. Some communities may have restrictive local rules on transportation.
Walrus can only be killed by fulltime hunters with licenses issued by the municipality. The walrus is shot with rifles with a minimum calibre of .30-06 full metal jacket sharp point bullets. Full- and semiautomatic rifles are not allowed. Sometimes the first shot will be a body shot with the aim of slowing down the animal before harpooning it. Walrus may only be hunted at sea, not on land.
Training – whales, seals and walrus
There are no formal training courses on how to shoot or where to aim at the animal in Greenland. Knowledge is passed on from generation to generation and between captain and crew. For whale hunts, there are courses on the handling and maintenance of harpoon grenades. Furthermore, the NAMMCO instruction manual on hunting of small cetaceans has been sent out to all hunters reporting a catch of a small cetacean in the last five years.
Monitoring and inspection – whales, seals and walrus
The wildlife officers work in close cooperation with the municipality authority, the police, Arctic Command and the Government of Greenland. The wildlife officers monitor the hunts or hunting activities by inspections of some of the hunts at sea and/or by controlling permits, licenses and equipment used on-board the vessels and skiffs and at the open markets where the hunters can sell their products.
Reporting – whales, seals and walrus
The reporting system in Greenland is a self-reporting system where all catches are reported to the Ministry. For every marine mammal taken under license the hunter or the responsible person (captain of the harpoon boat or the chosen leader in the collective hunt) is required to fill out a reporting form that is submitted to the Ministry shortly after the hunt.
The report includes information about the hunter, his license and boat, description of the weapon used to kill the animal, serial number of the grenade in the case of a large whale, etc. Furthermore, it gives information on species, catch area and different kinds of biological data depending on the species e.g. for large whales: flensing place, body length, sex, reproductive state of females, stomach contents, weight of editable products and estimated time to death (TTD). Cases of “struck and lost” are also reported.
Reporting requirements are based on the Hunting Act and hunting and species Executive Orders. Særmeldingsskema is for marine mammal species under quota (bowhead, fin, humpback and common minke whales and beluga, narwhal, walrus and polar bear) while the Piniarneq/Luli database is for the non-quota species (both marine and terrestrial mammals and birds).
DNA samples are taken from all catches of marine mammals and sent to the Greenland Institute of Natural Resources.
No edible products from a licensed marine mammal may be sold before the catch has been reported to the municipality. The hunters obtain a stamp on their license that confirms that a report has been delivered and the catch can be legitimately sold. Whalers with a harpoon boat license must display both the receipt for the purchase of the whale grenade as well as the used grenade with serial number.
Marine mammal hunting is subject to detailed regulations (hunting seasons, quotas, methods of killing). The rules and regulations are laid down by the Ministry of Food, Agriculture and Fisheries and are administered and supervised by the Directorate of Fisheries.
Iceland hunts two species: the minke whale and the fin whale.
The hunt is carried out with similar weapons and boats as are described for Norwegian minke whaling below. Minke whales are hunted in Icelandic coastal waters from small or medium sized (60-70 feet) fishing boats that are rigged for whaling in the spring and summer season. The weapons are deck mounted 50 mm Kongsberg harpoon guns equipped with the penthrite grenade (Whale Grenade-99) developed in Norway in 1997-1999. The grenade is loaded with 30 g pressed penthrite as explosive. Back-up rifles of calibres .375 or .458 using full metal jacket, round-nosed bullets are used if the whale is not instantly killed by the grenade detonation. The vessels usually search for whales at slow speed (4-6 knots/h) and the whales are often shot from a relatively short range (< 30m). No sonar or similar instruments are used during the hunt as such instruments are thought to scare the whales off.
The hunt is conducted from medium-sized boats that are exclusively used for whaling. Hunting grounds are within Iceland’s 200-mile exclusive economic zone and the whales are towed to a land station for flensing and processing. The whales are killed using 90 mm Kongsberg harpoon guns and a modified Whale Grenade-99 designed to trigger the detonation of 100 g pressed penthrite explosive at a depth of 110 cm after penetration into the whale. The back-up weapon is a new grenade.
Hvalur hf.—the company hunting fin whales in Iceland—has, since 1985, worked to improve the killing efficiency in the hunt. Whale Grenade-99 replaced the former “Black Powder Grenade” (filled with 650 g of black powder as explosive) that had been used for large whales for at least 70-80 years. The killing by the “Black Powder Grenade” is a combination of the concussion from the blow and the wounds and tissue lacerations caused by the heavy splinters from the cast iron grenade. However, the wounding and killing efficiency of such splinters is highly unpredictable.
No training courses or requirements exist on an annual basis. However, courses for gunners have been held regularly, and to get a hunting license the gunner has to undertake a course on handling harpoon guns and grenades. In addition, he must have general license for firearms.
Monitoring and inspection
There are random inspections carried out by the Directorate of Fisheries.
In Iceland there is a self-reporting system to report the position, sex and length, foetus/size of foetus where all whale catches are reported to the Directorate of Fisheries.
DNA samples of minke and fin whales are taken and recorded from all whales ensuring full traceability of whale products. The register, which includes the DNA profiles of all whales captured, permits the control and validation of all whale products sold in the domestic or international markets. It has also been used for a range of scientific purposes. The samples are analysed and stored at the Marine and Freshwater Research Institute in Reykjavik.
In 2019 Iceland introduced a general ban on seal hunting with an exception under special licences for subsistence use (Regulation No. 1100/2019). Primarily harbour and grey seals are hunted. Previously landowners had the right to hunt seals on their land without any restrictions on numbers.
The traditional seal hunt in Iceland revolves around hunting pups. Harbour seal pups are mainly hunted using netting. Nets used for this purpose are large meshed nets, often referred to as sealing-nets. The pups are caught in nets set close to small rocky islands or across creeks and channels. The seal pups are then clubbed and subsequently bled. Animal welfare laws in Iceland forbid drowning as a killing method, which means that the nets need to be monitored regularly to avoid that the pups drown. Grey seal pups, on the other hand, are almost entirely killed on land in pupping areas during the pupping period in October, using either a seal club or by shooting. Adult grey seals are sometimes hunted as well, using calibre rifles (.222 -243 calibre).
There are no regulatory training courses on how to shoot or where to aim at the animal in Iceland, though a normal firearms license must be attained.
Reporting of all catches are mandatory and are reported to the Directorate of Fisheries.
Marine mammal hunting is subject to detailed regulations (hunting seasons, quotas, methods of stunning and killing, training of hunters and their supervisors etc). The rules and regulations are laid down by the Ministry of Trade, Industry and Fisheries, and are administered and supervised by the Directorate of Fisheries.
The only targeted species is the minke whale.
Norwegian fishermen hunt minke whales from small (50 feet) or medium sized (60-120 feet) fishing boats that are rigged for whaling in the spring and summer season. The weapons are 50 mm or 60 mm harpoon guns. The harpoon is equipped with a penthrite grenade (Whale grenade-99) developed in Norway in 1997-1999. The grenade is loaded with 30g pressed penthrite as explosive. The back-up weapon is a rifle of calibre .375 or .458, using full metal jacket, round-nosed bullets. The vessels usually search for whales at slow speed (4-6 knots/h) and the whales are often shot from a relatively short range (< 30m). No sonar or similar instruments are used during the hunt as such instruments are thought to scare the whales off.
Starting in 1984, all gunners and licence holders have been required to attend obligatory training courses. Shooting tests with both the harpoon gun and rifle must be passed annually. The recommendation is to fire the grenade at the whale from a side position (45°-135° – relative to the animal’s longitudinal axis) and aim at the thorax (chest). The rifle is usually fired at close range and when the whale’s head is over water. The shot is directed to the brain.
In 2006, Norway introduced and made mandatory an automated monitoring system, and is thus far the only country to do so. This electronic system verifies when and where a shot has been fired and when a whale has been taken on board. Consequently, struck and lost whales are also recorded. All licensed whaling boats are equipped with an Electronic Trip Recorder (the Blue Box). The system cannot be manipulated and consists of a control and data logger box designed to independently monitor and log hunting activity data. An independent GPS and different sensors deployed in certain areas and structures of the boat collect the data, and the programmes are designed for continuous operation and logging of data for at least 4 months. It is equipped with back-up batteries and automatic restart functions if a system interruption occurs.
After the hunting season, the encrypted data from the Blue Box are decrypted and analysed by authorized personnel in the Directorate of Fisheries. For more reading, see document Øen, EO: electronic monitoring of Norwegian minke whaling, IWC 2005.
In 2022 it was decided to cease the use of electronic monitoring (Blue box) and replace it with electronic logbook reporting as is the general rule in fisheries.
There are random inspections carried out by the Directorate of Fisheries. These inspectors have attended the same training courses as the whalers.
There is no mandatory reporting of time to death (TTD) or instantaneous death rates (IDR).
The reporting system in Norway is a combination of a self-reporting system (electronic logbook reporting) and the automated Blue box now being phased out to be replaced by electronic logbook reporting. The electronic catch reporting system requires the hunters to electronically report the catch (or no catch) daily. This report includes information on catch, position of catch, sex, length, circumference, blubber dimension, foetus/size of foetus and number of grenades used in the catch.
DNA samples are taken and recorded from all whales ensuring full traceability of whale products. The Norwegian minke whale DNA register was first established in the mid-1990s when Norway reinstated commercial minke whale hunting. The register, which includes the DNA profiles of all whales captured (approximately 13,000 as of 2020), permits the control and validation of all meat and whale products sold in the domestic or international markets. It has also been used for a range of scientific purposes. The samples are analysed at the Institute of Marine Research and the register is hosted by the Directorate of Fisheries.
The pack ice hunt
Today only the harp seal is hunted in the Greenland Sea (West Ice). Traditionally, also hooded seals were hunted in this area, but this hunt has been prohibited since2007. For many years, Norwegian vessels have also been allocated an annual quota in the Barents Sea (East Ice) in the Russian Economic Zone (REZ). After several years with no Norwegian hunting activity in REZ, hunting in this area was in 2018 and 2019 conducted by one Norwegian vessel.
Ocean going vessels suitable and equipped for seal hunting are licensed. The crew usually consists of 13 – 15 persons and they normally stay out at sea from 4 to 6 weeks during the hunting season.
Both weaned harp seal pups and adult harp seals (defined to be one year or older) are hunted. The seals must be resting on the ice. Shooting seals that are in the water is strictly prohibited. The seals are either shot from the vessel, from a smaller boat, or from the ice. All seals are shot to the head, and the shooting range is normally around 30 m for weaned pups and about 70 meters for adults. All adult animals are to be shot with a rifle. Pups may be shot with a rifle or killed on the ice by using a hakapik (or a seal blow hook, named slagkrok) as the only weapon. For all animals that are shot, the hakapik is mandatory to use as a secondary weapon. Slagkrok may be used as a secondary weapon on pups. The secondary weapon should be used as soon as possible after the animal is shot. In all animals, bleeding is to be performed immediately after the use of the secondary weapon. When the hakapik or slagkrok is used as the only weapon on pups, a blow to the head with the blunt part of the tool is immediately followed by a blow to the head with the spike. Today, almost all seals are killed with a rifle. Hakapik as the only weapon is only occasionally used to kill pups.
According to the regulations relating to the seal hunt it is explicitly forbidden to:
- Kill un-weaned pups
- Hunt adult harp seals in whelping areas
- Hunt seals that are in the water
- Shoot seals if conditions prevent them from being struck with a hakapik and bled on the ice
- Hunt in artificial light
- Use lines, nets or any form of trap
- Use shotguns
- Use a hakapik on adult animals that have not been shot first
- Use a slagkrok on adult animals
- Strike with a hakapik or a slagkrok anywhere but on the skull.
The prescribed ammunition used for pups is similar to what is prescribed for the hunting of smaller terrestrial games (roe deer, fox, etc.), which is soft-nosed, expanding bullets with impact energy of minimum 981 Joules (100 kgm) at 100m (.222 calibre and higher).
The prescribed ammunition for adult seals is similar to large terrestrial mammal ammunition (moose, red deer, etc.) which is soft-nosed, expanding, projectiles with impact energy of at least 2700 Joules (275 kgm) at 100m for 9g bullets and 2200 Joules (225 kgm) at 100m for 10g bullets (6.5, .308 calibre and higher).
Coastal seal hunting
Recreational hunts on grey and harbour seals are conducted along the Norwegian coast, and on ringed and bearded seals along the coast of Svalbard. Along the Norwegian coast, the hunts are conducted from land or from smaller boats and are carried out using rifles. The ammunition requirements are the same as those required for ice-breeding seals. The surrounding water depth should be so shallow that the seal can be retrieved if shot in water. In Svalbard, the seals are hunted on the ice or on land, except for ringed seals that may be hunted in the water during the period 16 August – 30 November. All the hunts are licensed.
Training, reporting and inspection
Prior to the pack-ice hunt, hunters and inspectors must attend an annual course in animal welfare, legislation, and the conduct of the killing of seals. The shooters must pass an annual shooting test, and personnel using the hakapik have to pass a practical test. It is mandatory to keep a catch logbook, report on the number of animals struck and lost, and to have an inspector on-board (usually a veterinarian) during the entire hunt. Vessels may also be required to take on-board international observers. In the coastal seal hunt, the hunter must also pass an annual shooting test. There is no mandatory reporting of TTD or IDR for neither of the hunts.
Greenland Home Rule Act
No 28 of 30 October 1998 on the tasks and authority of wildlife officers
Catch registration form (1993-present) “Piniarneq”
No 359, April 6, 2009 on amendments to Regulation No 163 of May 30, 1973 on whaling (cf. Regulation No 304/1983, 239/1984, 862/2006, 822/2007, 456/2008 58/2009 and 263/2009). No 414, April 29, 2009 on the ban on whale hunting in specific areas.
Rules in the licenses for minke whaling and fin whaling.
The Ministry of Trade, Industry and Fisheries and the Directorate of Fisheries issues each year regulations relating to quotas, hunting period and areas for the hunting Minke whales, seals in the West Ice and East Ice, and coastal seals