Whaling and sealing – red activities

Yes – whaling and sealing are red and involve blood – sometimes much and sometimes less – but the colour is still red. On land the red bloody colour is confined to a small area as blood is absorbed by the soil, snow and ice. In water, on the other hand, the red colour disperses and gives the impression of enormous quantities of blood. Both scenarios leave the unprepared viewer with a somewhat dramatic scene. Urbanity makes most people unaware of the processes behind the meat we eat, that livestock food derives from killing animals and that this entails bloodshed. Animals killed in slaughterhouse are also bled to enhance the taste of the meat for the consumer, but this blood remains behind the walls and is not seen.

Whaling and sealing – green activities

Whaling and sealing are also green, and environmentally friendly. If removals are sustainable, the overall environmental costs related to whaling and sealing are restricted to the activities of the hunting boats, and the fuel for the boats and snow scooters. They do not entail any intensive farming, they do not destroy the habitat and the sea bottom.

From the point of view of animal welfare, wild animals live a natural, free life until they suddenly die. Whaling and sealing do not entail the confinement and transport of live animals seen in the livestock industry. The human interactions, and the human-caused suffering, if any, is only associated with the killing and only lasts a tiny fraction of the animal’s life span.

Modern agricultural practices have revolutionized the industry and greatly increased the global food supply. At the same time, they have resulted in many inadvertent, and often detrimental, impacts on the environment. The livestock industry represents one of the most significant contributors to serious environmental problems like deforestation, land degradation, contamination of ground water, pollution of soil and air, release of greenhouse gases, loss of wildlife habitat and biodiversity and release of chemical additives.

Bottom trawling in commercial fisheries is associated with large scale sea-bottom/habitat destruction. Uncontrolled and sometimes high by-catch and discard of non-target species characterise most fisheries. In contrast, whaling and sealing are highly selective food production techniques, with no by-catch and “waste” of non-target species. Targeted animals can be selected by species, by size, and for some species by sex, reducing the threat to the reproductive component of a population.

Moreover, the carbon footprint of locally exploited and consumed marine resources is much less than that of any alternative, often flown-in, imported resources. A survey by a pro-whaling lobby organisation covering eight of Norway’s 30 whaling vessels in 2007 showed that the average emission of carbon dioxide (excluding processing and transport), was 1.9 kilos per kilo of whale meat, compared with 15.8 for beef, 6.4 for pork and 4.6 for chicken.

As long as catches do not exceed the reproductive capacity of stocks, whaling and sealing provide an environmentally friendly contribution to the planet’s food supply.

Whaling and sealing – blue activities

And whaling and sealing are blue. The “Blue Economy” initiative promotes global sustainability by focusing on the planet’s single largest resource, the oceans. It seeks to maximize the economic value gained from the marine environment in a sustainable way that conserves and protects the sea’s resources and ecosystems.

Blue Economy is the maritime concept parallel to the Rio+20 “Green Economy” initiative, which aims to: “improve human well-being and social equity, while significantly reducing environmental risks and ecological scarcities” and endorses the principles of low carbon, resource efficiency and social inclusion.

Blue Economy endorses the principle of resource efficiency. Coastal whaling and sealing for food are traditionally very resource efficient. Taking seals in Greenland as an example, the essential product is meat for human consumption, including flippers and internal organs. Surplus are fed to sledge dogs that in turn contribute to hunting and fishing, and the skins are used for clothing. In addition, sealskin and bones are used for tools, tents, kayaks, decoration and jewelry. The essential value is subsistence, but the skins, although a by-product, generate the economic value and thus the cash necessary to acquire other commodities and food, as well as covering the cost of the hunting. The 2009 EU ban on seal products, that has resulted in the non-use of seal skin, is not in accordance with the principles of Blue Economy since it:

  • decreases resource efficiency and generates waste
  • makes livelihoods less sustainable, thus decreasing human well-being and social equity
  • does not reduce environmental risks or ecological scarcities, as the seals are still hunted for food

By contributing to food security, generating job and cash opportunities and supporting familial, societal and cultural ties, sustainable whaling and sealing contribute to improving human well-being in coastal communities and, at the same time, represent low carbon and resource efficient activities. They also increase the economic value of the marine environment and thus contribute to the Blue Economy.

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