Voyage of the Odyssey Voice from the Sea
What is the Voyage of the Odyssey Track the Voyage Interactive Ocean Class from the Sea Patrick Stewart
> Odyssey Logs -
Search by Region
- Atlantic Ocean
- Mediterranean Sea
- Mauritius
- Sri Lanka
- Maldives
- The Seychelles
- Indian Ocean
- Australia
- Papua New Guinea
- Kiribati
- Pacific Passage
- Galapagos Islands
> Odyssey Logs - Search by Topic
> Odyssey Video
> Current Location - Map
> A Day in the Life
> Meet the Crew
site map  
Wilson Senior, a norweigan whaling boat, brings a minke whale onto the ship
15 minutes after firing an explosive harpoon into a minke whale, the animal is pulled aboard the Norweigan whaling boat - Wilson Senior. On May 18th, 2005, members from Whalewatch, an organization consisting of over 140 non-governmental organizations around the world founded by the World Society for the Protection of Animals and includes the Environmental Investigation Agency, documented this minke whale kill.

Watch the video footage of this event.

  Real Video -   56k   200k
Photo - Courtesy of and Copyright 2005 - WSPA & EIA

August 3, 2005
The Cruelty of Whaling

Log Transcript

This is Genevieve Johnson speaking to you from the Odyssey in the Bahamas.

In spite of a moratorium on whaling, whales are still being hunted in several places across the globe. There is full commercial whaling, subsistence hunts (by indigenous populations), and the infamy of 'scientific whaling' - a loophole that allows countries to pretend to do be doing science when what they are really doing is using science to continue whaling during the moratorium.

At last month's International Whaling Commission (IWC) meeting in Ulsan, South Korea, the Japanese Government declared its intention to add humpback whales and fin whales to its list of target species in the 2006/7 season of its Antarctic 'scientific whaling' program.

The announcement reignited concern and debate about the steady rise in global scientific and commercial whaling practices. One of the stronger arguments against whaling is the unequalled brutality of even the most modern whale-killing methods.

In 2004, the World Society for the Protection of Animals (WSPA) in cooperation with several other animal welfare organizations compiled a comprehensive review laying out the hard scientific, evidence about how long it takes whales to die by each of the methods currently used to kill them. The review points out that no one has yet invented a humane way to kill a whale at sea.

The intent of the review was to stimulate and promote public awareness by highlighting current whaling practices, the hope being that it would enable members of the public to have a more informed view on whaling operations, including the cruelty of those operations.

Dr Harry Lillie, who worked as a ship's physician on a whaling trip in the Antarctic half a century ago, wrote this: 'If we can imagine a horse having two or three explosive spears stuck in its stomach and being made to pull a butcher's truck through the streets of London while it pours blood into the gutter, we shall have an idea of the method of killing. The gunners themselves admit that if whales could scream, the industry would stop for nobody would be able to stand it.'

The use of harpoons with explosive grenade heads is still the main technique for killing whales used by today's whalers.

In the review, Philippa Brakes points out that in recent years, campaigns against whaling have often been labeled by pro-whaling factions as emotional or unrealistic. A common argument of this group is that those campaigning against whaling do so because they believe whales are unique animals possessing intrinsic value. This argument is used as a distraction to keep the whaling industry from being called to account for its appalling animal welfare record, for the debate about intrinsic values has nothing to do with the whaling question. One of the measures of any civilized society is how well it treats animals in its slaughterhouses. At present the slaughter of whales does not even approach the lowest standards required of terrestrial livestock houses that kill the species we use for food.

The IWC currently assesses the humaneness of a whale kill only in terms of the time it takes to kill the animal - the 'time to death' (TTD). It is the time that elapses from application of the primary killing method, until the whale is judged to be dead-according to IWC criteria for what constitutes death. Currently, there is much controversy over the accuracy of the IWC criteria (Butterworth et al. 2003). Even so, if Time-To-Death is the only measure, another case reported by Lillie of a whale that required nine exploding harpoons over four hours before it died could be interpreted as causing less distress to the animal than, say, a person who lay dying for several days or weeks but did not suffer pain.

E.C.M. Parsons, N.A. Rose and M.P. Simmonds highlight the physiological adaptations that have evolved in cetaceans to survive in the marine environment and therefore have a significant impact on the time it takes a whale to die. Furthermore, adaptations for diving may make it difficult to determine when a whale is dead, for most such adaptations slow the process of dying. For example: with a species adapted for extended dives, the brain and other vital organs get well-oxygenated blood first, and may continue functioning for surprisingly long periods in the absence of inspired oxygen. Thus, harpoon wounds to the thoracic cavity and lungs-wounds that we would expect to be lethal (based on our experience with terrestrial mammal), may actually allow a whale to live for an extended period (Wills and Bob 1995). Conversely, a deep reduction in metabolism, and/or a reduction in blood flow to all but essential organs such as the brain, and/or a virtual cessation of breathing might erroneously be taken as indicators of death, when, in fact, brain function may continue (Wills and Bob 1995).

Morphological features such as size, blubber thickness, skeletal structure and location of vital organs significantly influence the efficacy of particular killing methods. These differences may effect the course of projectiles as they travel through the body towards localized vital organs while encountering bone as well as different thicknesses of blubber and muscle. Such factors may also vary between individuals of the same species, according to age, sex and season. During whaling operations, harsh sea conditions often result in poor shooting accuracy, furthermore, whalers often fire at considerable range. Both circumstances may greatly increase the margin for error, thereby lengthening the time-to-death (TTD) and therefore the associated suffering of the animal.

The lack of specific killing requirements for different whales of different size may also be a major contributing factor in extended times to death. Today, larger species, such as fin and sperm whales, are killed using methods that were developed for the much smaller minke whale, and generally speaking, current killing methods are not adequately adapted for the species being killed.

At this year's International Whaling Commission (IWC) meeting in Ulsan, South Korea, Joji Morshita of the Japanese Delegation claimed the following; " a large portion of the whales taken are killed instantly by an explosive harpoon and for those cases when they are not, a secondary killing method (a second harpoon or high caliber rifle) ensures that the time to death (TTD) is as rapid as possible. Instantaneous death and TTD of less than two minutes for whales is far better than the killing of most other wildlife."

Wilson Senior, a norweigan whaling boat, brings a minke whale onto the ship
An explosive harpoon gun mounted on the bow of a Norwiegan whaling boat.
Photo - Courtesy of and Copyright 2005 - WSPA & EIA

The problem with such claims by Japan and Norway, who insist that most whales are dead within two minutes, is that supporting data contradict such statements, are not submitted at all to the IWC, or are submitted but cannot be verified.

Despite the similarity of the killing methods used, there are marked differences in reported killing efficiencies between Japanese and Norwegian whalers. As P. Brakes and S. Fisher demonstrate through data collected and reported to the IWC that, according to Norwegian data, in 2002, 80.7 percent of minke whales were killed instantaneously. During the 2002/2003 Japanese hunt for minke whale in Antarctica, only 40.2 per cent of the whale kills were recorded as instantaneous. More recent data show that, for commercial and scientific whale hunts, the average time to death is well over two minutes.

Norway provides data on whale killing as required under the IWC schedule. However, Japan continues to withhold much of the data it collects from its whaling operations. For example: in 2003, Japan only presented data (which were, incidentally, incomplete) on two of the four species that it hunts in the North Pacific 'JARPN' hunt. It also provided some details (for the first time since the hunt began in 2000) of the harpoon it uses to kill sperm whales, but offered no Time To Death data on any of the species it killed.

In 2004, the Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) and the World Society for the Protection of Animals (WSPA) documented a minke whale hunt in Norway in an effort to verify claims by this nations whalers, that most whales are either killed instantaneously, or die within two minutes of being struck.

Following is a description of the observed hunt by EIA Director, Jennifer Lonsdale -

    An Investigation into Norwegian Whale Hunting

    "EIA and WSPA investigators obtain undercover footage of Norwegian whale hunting which blows a hole in whaling propaganda of pro-whalers. EIA is a leading member of Whalewatch - a coalition of over 140 organisations worldwide that was established two years ago by the World Society for the Protection of Animals (WSPA). Whalewatch is calling for universal recognition that whale-killing methods are inherently cruel, and that on welfare grounds alone, commercial and scientific research whaling must end and the moratorium on commercial whaling be maintained.

    Norway continues to hunt whales under a loophole in the International Whaling Commission's (IWC) convention because it lodged an objection to the moratorium on commercial whaling. It claims that about 80% of whales killed in Norway die instantaneously and that almost all those not killed by the impact of the harpoon die in less than two minutes. Despite EIA's suggestions that Norway provide footage of its hunts to the IWC Workshops on Whaling Killing Methods, this has never been done. Consequently, there is no verification of Norway's claims.

    Concern has been rising this year as Norway announced that it would be replacing its human inspectors with an electronic logging system that would not be able to record the actual killing of the whales, only the firing of the harpoon and the hauling of the whale on board the vessel. This will result in even less verification of its killing methods.

    In May 2005, EIA and WSPA carried out an investigation into Norwegian whaling to see if we could obtain visual verification of Norway's claims.

    We knew that the investigation would be difficult, not because our team would be harmed, but if it were discovered that they were attempting to document a hunt, efforts would be made to stop them. The other difficulty facing the investigators was the fact that there is a 500-metre exclusion zone around whaling vessels at sea. The penalty for being caught within this zone is approximately US$10,000. With no way to prepare for this in London, it was left up to the investigators to figure out how to film the hunt without being caught and fined.

    The investigation began in early May at the centre of Norwegian whaling, the beautiful Lofoten Islands. The weather was appalling with snow showers and rain, ensuring the whaling vessels in the harbour would not be going out in search of minke whales for some time. Receiving confirmation that whalers were operating in the north, our two investigators drove inside the Arctic Circle, to the most northwesterly tip of Norway to the town of Vardo. This was quite prophetic because it was in that same area that the three co-founders of EIA documented Norwegian whaling in 1983 from their vessel, the Balaenoptera, a year before EIA was formed.

    In Vardo, the weather was good enabling the investigators to see the whaling vessels operating offshore, but the vessels were too far away for any detail to be caught on film.

    On 18th May at about 6AM, the investigators woke to see a whaling vessel leaving the port of Vardo and decided to drive along the coast to see where it went. The wind was blowing at 15 to 20 knots creating a choppy sea, and the investigators were surprised to see the whaler leave port as Norwegian whalers claim they only hunt in flat calm waters. A short time later, excitement rose as it became clear that the vessel was looking for whales only 300 hundred to 400 hundred metres from the shore.

    Finding a base in the rocky cliffs, they watched the vessel's activities. After some time, it became clear that the men in the crow's nest of the vessel had spotted a whale - the video camera started to roll and did not stop until the whale was brought aboard the vessel.

    The pursuit of the whale took over 1 hour. The harpoon was finally fired but hit the whale in the lower abdomen and the whale was not killed. It took 11 minutes before the first rifle shot was fired at the whale in an attempt to kill it. Six more rifle shots were fired in the next three minutes as the men on board struggled to winch the whale to the side of the boat. The harpoon appeared to have passed right through the lower abdomen, tearing a massive hole in the whale's body from which the intestines were protruding. As far as we can tell from the footage, the whale died at least 14 minutes and 28 seconds after the impact of the harpoon, although it may have been alive much longer.

    After the trip, the footage was taken to a post-production house in London for editing and analysis. As the cameraman had used a new High Definition camera, the footage could be magnified extensively before there was any detrimental loss of quality. This revealed a huge amount of information including the last blow from the whale marking the time to death of 14 minutes 28 seconds.

    Armed with 100 copies of a DVD of the whale kill, representatives from WSPA and EIA attended the International Whaling Commission meeting in Ulsan, the Republic of Korea. Copies of the DVD were given to the Norwegian Government representatives and a number of other delegations, who were shocked by what they saw. In addition, the UK Government agreed to present the data on the hunt to the meeting of the 'Working Group on Whale Killing Methods'.

    The DVD showed without a doubt that whale hunting is appalling cruel and that the whale hunters are unable to ensure they kill whales instantaneously. This film, combined with the effectiveness of Whalewatch's international campaign, resulted in the welfare concerns of whales being given greater attention at the meeting than ever before.

    The presentation of the film is unique in that it is the first time that a whale hunt has been filmed without a break from the start of the pursuit to the final death of the whale and the hauling aboard the whaling vessel. The whalers were unaware of the cameras and were therefore undisturbed by them. It includes important scientific information, which will make a significant contribution to discussions on the methods used to hunt whales. Furthermore, it is a clear demonstration that whaling is not just about numbers - it is also about the suffering inflicted on each individual whale that is harpooned."

It can be concluded that current whaling operations do little to address welfare issues for hunted cetaceans and are conducted in a manner with a propensity to cause severe pain and suffering. A number of factors inherent in current whaling practices render it unlikely that truly humane standards could ever be achieved.


Additional References -
  • J. Lonsdale. Director, Environmental Investigation Agency. (EIA) London, England.
  • Joji Morishita, Delegation of Japan - IWC 57. Briefing Note.
  • Brakes, P. Butterworth, A. Simmonds, M. & Lymbery, P. - Troubled Waters. A review of the Welfare Implications of Modern Whaling Activities. Contributors to 'Troubled Waters' who are referenced -
  • Philippa Brakes, Marine Consultant, c/o WDCS (Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society), Chippenham, UK.
  • Butterworth, A., Sadler, L., Knowles, T.G. and Kestin S.C. 2003.
  • Evaluating possible indicators of insensibility and death in cetacea. IWC Workshop on Whale Killing Methods. IWC/55/WK4. [ Referenced by Brakes, P. Butterworth, A. Simmonds, M. & Lymbery, P. Troubled Waters. A review of the Welfare Implications of Modern Whaling Activities.]
  • Sue Fisher, US Director, WDCS (Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society), P.O. Box 820064, Portland 97282 - 1064, Oregon, US.
  • Dr D.W. van Liere, CABWIM consultancy, Gansmesschen 33, 9403 XR Assen, Netherlands,
  • N.A. Rose, Marine Mammal Scientist, The Humane Society of the United States, Washington DC, US.
  • E.C.M. Parsons, Marine Mammal Biologist, Department of Environmental Science and Policy, George Mason University, Fairfax, Virginia, US and The University Marine Biological Station Millport (University of London), Isle of Cumbrae, Scotland.
  • M.P. Simmonds, Director of Science, Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society, Chippenham, UK.
  • Wills, D.K. and Bob, E.L. 1995. Scientific considerations for opposing the killing of whales on ethical grounds. Paper presented at the 47th Annual Meeting of the International Whaling Commission, May 1995, Dublin, Ireland. Humane Society International, Washington DC. [ Referenced by Brakes, P. Butterworth, A. Simmonds, M. & Lymbery, P. Troubled Waters. A review of the Welfare Implications of Modern Whaling Activities.]

Odyssey log written by Genevieve Johnson & Dr. Roger Payne.
Special thanks to Jennifer Lonsdale of EIA for all of her assistance with this Odyssey report

<< Back

> Home > Voice from the Sea > What is the Voyage? > Track the Voyage > Interactive Ocean > Class from the Sea > Patrick Stewart > Help with Plugins? > Site Map