Exploding ‘Whalegrenade’ harpoons take up to 20 minutes to kill whales, Norwegian data reveals

'These shocking numbers are a timely reminder of how inherently cruel commercial whaling operations are,' say campaigners

Josh Gabbatiss
Science Correspondent
Monday 10 September 2018 15:20 BST
Illegal Japanese whaling filmed by the Australian Government in Antarctica

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Whales shot with modern explosive devices often take several minutes to die, and can take as long as 25 minutes, according to official Norwegian data.

Figures submitted by Norway to the International Whaling Commission ahead of its meeting in Brazil show around a fifth of the whales shot with their harpoons take a prolonged time to die.

The report highlights the role that Norwegian research has played in driving the "adoption of improved weaponry, methods and regulations”, but conservationists refuted the idea that whaling has improved.

“These shocking numbers are a timely reminder of how inherently cruel commercial whaling operations are,” said Astrid Fuchs, programme lead at Whale and Dolphin Conservation (WDC).

“It is incomprehensible that Norway is trying to use this report as a demonstration of progress in animal welfare.”

Explosive harpoons have been in use since the late 19th century, and helped usher in the modern age of whaling, but they have been subject to improvements.

The widely used Whalegrenade-99 has been manufactured in Norway since 1999, and consists of explosive penthrite fired from a cannon at the front of a whaling vessel.

Upon impact, the device penetrates deep into the target whale and kills the animal with a burst of energy, before spring-loaded claws release and embed themselves in its flesh.

Data collected between 2000 and 2002 by Norway found that 80 per cent of the whales killed with this technology were “rendered instantly irreversibly unconscious or dead”.

However, 49 of the 271 minke whales taken by Norwegian whalers were not killed so quickly.

Many took around six minutes to die, and one whale was only wounded by the initial shot, which led to a slow death that took up to 25 minutes.

WDC pointed out the inconsistency of this practice with Norway’s strong tradition of high animal welfare standards.

The Scandinavian nation was one of the first European countries to require all livestock to be stunned before slaughter, and polling suggests three quarters of Norwegians think all animals killed for commercial purposes should be given the same protection.

Commercial whaling has been banned for over 30 years, but Norway, Iceland and Japan continue to hunt whales regardless.

At the upcoming whaling meeting in the Brazilian city of Florianopolis, Japan wants to push for an end on the ban so it can stop the “scientific” whaling it currently engages in and take up full-scale commercial whaling again.

However, in light of news that the country has slaughtered pregnant females and whales inhabiting protected parts of Antarctica, campaigners are pushing back against any changes.

“At this IWC meeting, Japan and its allies want to convince the world that the time has come to lift the whaling ban and bring back commercial whaling,” said Ms Fuchs.

“This report by Norway is the perfect argument as to why this should never be allowed to happen.

“We are calling on all conservation and animal welfare minded governments to strictly oppose Japan´s proposal and to call on Norway and Iceland to stop their whaling and abide by the international whaling ban.”

The Independent contacted the Norwegian Ministry of Trade, Industry and Fisheries for comment, but had not heard back at the time of publication.

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