AGADIR, Morocco (Reuters) - Greenland has won back the right to hunt humpback whales for the first time in a quarter-century after it threatened to leave the world’s top whaling body if other nations reject its ancestral traditions.
“We cannot wait any longer,” Ane Hansen, Greenland’s Minister for Fisheries, Hunting and Agriculture, said just before the consensus vote by the 88 nations of the International Whaling Commission (IWC) meeting in Morocco on Friday.
“Greenlanders are whale eaters but our subsistence needs have been cut down and cut down,” she told Reuters.
Greenland’s Inuit hunted humpbacks for 4,000 years until Europeans killing the giant mammals for their oil pushed the animals to the brink of extinction in the last century.
The Inuit now hunt limited numbers of fin and bowhead whales for local consumption under controlled licenses. The government says the meat is sold in local open air markets and the proceeds distributed among the boat crews.
It says the revenue is vital to the population of the world’s biggest island, which has few sources of income besides seafood exports and a subsidy from former colonizer Denmark and is blanketed in ice for most of the year.
Some IWC delegates said the argument that Greenlanders needs to hunt whales to survive was spurious as they enjoy one of the highest average household incomes in the world.
Whaling opponents say Greenland’s whale hunt is big business, the meat sold in supermarkets for ten times the price in traditional markets and whale steaks served in luxury hotels.
“Greenland must withdraw its humpback quota request until it can demonstrate that all currently available whale meat is used to meet genuine subsistence needs,” the Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society said in a statement before the vote.
IWC scientists say that catching 9 humpback whales per year, as Greenland was allowed, would not affect a population that has recovered since a moratorium on commercial whaling began in 1986.
But some Latin American states objected to Greenland’s request, saying their income from whale watching for tourists would suffer if fewer humpbacks return to their waters after their annual Arctic migration.
They also want pro-whaling nations to stop blocking a plan for a whaling-free zone in the south Atlantic.
Greenland’s request went through thanks to a last-minute compromise proposal by the European Union to curb Greenland’s quota for hunting fin whales.
Editing by Mark Heinrich