The mountain of whale blubber Norway is hiding from the world

Click to follow
The Independent Online
THIS IS Norway's cruel secret - the blubber mountain.

Here, shown for the first time, is a sight that will sicken many people - a warehouse crammed with boxes containing the blubber of thousands of minke whales, slaughtered by Norwegian fishermen in defiance of world opinion. All have been killed despite the international moratorium on commercial whaling which has been in force since 1986, but which Norway has never respected.

The meat of the minkes has been sold for food in Norway, but the 500 tons of blubber - which the Norwegians do not eat - is being stockpiled against the day when it may be legally traded with the Japanese, who do.

It is piled high in three huge refrigerators, each as big as a house, inside a plain white-painted warehouse in Svolvaer, the main town of the Lofoten islands in northern Norway, which is the country's main whaling centre.

The pictures were taken at the suggestion of The Independent by a young Swedish photographer working for Greenpeace, who persuaded workers at the Ellingsen fish processing company in the town to let him inside the warehouse.

Peter Melchett, the executive director of Greenpeace UK, commented last night: "Having watched these incredible animals swimming off the Scottish coast last year, I find these images absolutely repellent."

Since the rest of the world (apart from Japan) abandoned commercial whaling, the Norwegians have harpooned about 3,000 minkes. At first it was done in the guise of "scientific" whaling but since 1993 they have resumed an openly commercial hunt, awarding themselves ever-higher annual "quotas" of animals to be killed.

The numbers have risen from 226 in 1993 to 624 last year and this year their "quota" is 753 whales; so far this summer they have killed around 500.

Each minke, which may weigh up to 10 tons, yields about a ton-and-a-half of meat and half-a-ton of blubber, and so great is the blubber mountain now that the whalers have recently been observed throwing the blubber of freshly-killed animals back into the sea.

It would fetch extremely high prices if it could be sold to the Japanese, who consider it a delicacy. But any sale is outlawed by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (Cites).

When the whaling moratorium was introduced, all the great whales were listed on Cites' Appendix 1, which bans any trade in listed animals or their products.

However, the Norwegians are working hard to have the north-east Atlantic stock of the minke whale "downlisted", so that the trade in blubber can resume.

At the last meeting of Cites, in Zimbabwe in 1997, they actually secured a simple majority for the downlisting, but not the three-quarters majority needed to make it take effect. They are now mounting a major diplomatic effort to secure the necessary vote at the next full Cites meeting, scheduled to take place in Nairobi next year.

Many anti-whaling campaigners feel this meeting will be even more important than the next meeting of the International Whaling Commission (IWC), at which Norway and Japan will be continuing their unremitting efforts to have the 1986 moratorium lifted. Last night, Ulf Ellingsen, managing director of the company in Svolvaer, told The Independent that Norway's national blubber stockpile stood at about 500 tons and his company held about 90 per cent.

He saw nothing wrong with it. "Once you decide to harvest the animals, you are obliged to utilise all of them," he said, adding that "of course" he was hoping that the Norwegian government could secure a Cites downlisting for the minke.

"The blubber mountain proves that the Norwegian propaganda machine has been peddling a lie for years," Peter Melchett said last night.

"The lie is that their whaling is a traditional hunt which is being done to support local people and meet local needs," he said. "That's what he Norwegian government has been saying to justify ignoring international law."

For the last six weeks, two Greenpeace ships have been directly confronting the Norwegian whaling fleet on its hunt and campaigners believe they have severely affected it.

Britain remains opposed to commercial whaling in principle and the UK position was restated by the fisheries minister, Elliot Morley, at the last IWC meeting in Grenada in May.