Hunting in the past
Since prehistoric times, stranded or hunted marine mammals have represented resources, food and materials, for many coastal communities worldwide. Today marine mammals are still consumed as human food around the world in at least 114 countries (e.g., Robards and Reeves 2011).
In the Northern latitudes, they have acquired a special significance because of their proximity, abundance and overall year-round availability compared to the scantiness and strong seasonality of the land resources. They have been a logical, compulsory and invaluable food resource for coastal communities, enabling small remote and isolated communities to survive. Still today, they represent the mainstay for many coastal communities. They bring food and cash money, as well as job opportunities in places where job opportunities are few, and supplement for example seasonal fishing activities.
Subsistence/sustenance and coastal whaling and sealing were conducted in a largely sustainable manner, with hunting efforts and impact limited in scale and geographic extent. The scale of the impact changed with commercial whaling and sealing. These systematic hunts for profit over-exploited many whale and seal stocks, particularly from the onset of modern whaling and sealing. Some species or stocks become virtually extinct while many were heavily depleted to 1% of their pristine abundance. Industrial whaling and sealing were indeed a blueprint for repeated over-exploitation and mismanagement.
Two stocks were extirpated in NAMMCO countries, the South West Greenland stock of belugas by the 1930ies and the Faroese stock of harbour seals by the 1850ies. A dramatic reduction in harvest has allowed most other species and stocks to increase and the majority are now able to sustain controlled level of removals. In a few cases, like hooded seals in the West Ice, the decline triggered by harvest continues although harvest has ceased, likely due to other climate induced changes.