The Vanishing of Norwegian Whaling

The Lofoten Island archipelago of Norway, which lies within the Arctic Circle, is steeped in lore and famed for its raw beauty.  It will always be the land of the Vikings.  It is here, however, that a tradition is dying.  This is not due to any political or environmental concern.  Children growing up here have stopped dreaming of being fishermen and whalers.  Instead, they leave their hometowns to seek out urban jobs.  On the Island of Røst, children are forced to leave the community early if they wish to attend high school, something that their tiny community cannot offer them.

Whaling, an activity formerly central to the Norwegian way of life, is fading in Lofoten.  The Minke whale population in the North Atlantic is healthy at 130,000 animals and the yearly catch, around 500, does not even make a dent in this number.  It is not the scarcity of the whales causing the decline.  There just isn’t the interest that there used to be.  In addition, the market for whale meat is thinning.  Norwegians see the meat as a “Depression-era food” that’s un-environmental.  CITES means that the international export market is also restricted.

In Røst, only two men in the past decade have decided to pursue a career in fishing.  One young man, unable to afford a proper fishing boat, pulls cod in one by one.  Similar to the whaling situation, the quantity of animals in the wild is plentiful, millions of cod come here to spawn, and the Lofoten climate is ideal for drying fish in open air to make stockfish, a kind of cod “jerky” that Vikings used to bring on their seafaring voyages.  But, again, the interest is just not there.

Even the environmental activist groups that waged eco-war on these fishermen and whalers are now sitting quietly, waiting for the inevitable end.





“Blackfish” Revisited

Below is my original post, “Controversy Surrounding ‘Blackfish.'”  I wrote this piece before having seen the movie, and my opinions have changed since seeing it.  The new writing is in bold. 

There is no record of an orca attacking a human in the wild. In 2010, Dawn Brancheau, a veteran trainer at SeaWorld, was killed by an orca during a show. The orca, Tilikum, had already been involved in two deaths. Now a controversial documentary on Tilikum and the death of Brancheau, “Blackfish,” is in theaters.

To fully understand Tilikum’s journey, we should start at the beginning. Each year, many orca follow Atlantic Herring to the rugged fjords of Iceland. It is here that Tilikum was netted and pulled alongside a boat with other members of his pod. The youngest and smallest orca were chosen to be taken into captivity. Tilikum was hauled onboard and stored for the duration of the journey in a “module,” a small, dark holding cell.

This brutal beginning, especially when added to all the ways orca are unfit for captivity, may explain the violence displayed by Tilikum. Orca in the wild travel hundreds of miles per day and are extremely gregarious. In captivity, the lack of room to roam and the absence of a pod cause significant stress. The sensory deprivation imposed on the orcas is enough to cause a human to become mentally disturbed.

Although SeaWorld has entertained and enthralled the public for nearly five decades, animal rights advocates hope “Blackfish” will help bring about a change that seems long overdue.

As I mentioned in the old post, orcas are highly social.  When they are placed in different SeaWorld enclosures, which are essentially concrete boxes, families are not kept together.  The resulting social structure, stemming from the random placement of the orcas, can be extremely upsetting to the animals.  SeaWorld has even separated mother from calf.  

In these enclosures, the orcas’ lifespans are significantly reduced from the 30-50 year lifespan for orcas in the wild to late teens-early 20s. In the wild, female orcas sometimes live up to 80 or 90 years, males to 60 or 70 years. 

Though Tilikum was involved in two deaths prior to even beginning training with Dawn Brancheau, he was used in artificial insemination and fathered many SeaWorld calves.  Even from an outsider’s perspective, it is easy to see how this is dangerous.  Just as with dogs or any other species, animals that have demonstrated aggression should not be used in breeding. 

What my original post failed to stress was that SeaWorld is at fault.  The whales are unhappy and mistreated, resulting in unnatural aggression that has already led to multiple deaths. 

Please read more here: