Whaling in Greenland

Re. Greenland Aboriginal Subsistence Whaling

Dear Sir/Madam

Thank you for your recent letter/mail regarding whaling in Greenland.

Greenland is a self-governing part of the Kingdom of Denmark. As a coastal, fishery nation, the economy in Greenland is mainly dependent on sustainable use of the marine resources, with commercial fisheries as the main source of income (>90%). Sustainable whaling is also important to ensure the meat supply for the domestic market.

The Greenland aboriginal subsistence quotas for large whales are normally decided by the International Whaling Commission (IWC). The size of the quotas influenced by the advise from the IWC Scientific Committee and the quotas are never higher than advised by the Committee. The Committee set for each whale species a highest number of animals which can be taken by the indigenous societies without harm to the stock. This ensures that the whaling quotas are sustainable, and at the same time ensures that the whaling will not impede the continued growth of the stocks of large whales. 

At its 64th meeting in Panama on 2-6 July, 2012, the International Whaling Commission was not able to take a decision on the update of catch limits for the aboriginal subsistence whaling in Greenland for the six year period 2013-2018 leaving Greenland in an awkward situation with no quotas decided by the IWC.

The proposal presented by the Kingdom of Denmark was supported by the advise of the IWC Scientific Committee as not harming the stock and was consistent with the IWC definition of aboriginal subsistence whaling and satisfied Greenland´s aboriginal subsistence needs. The proposal was not adobted by 3/4 majority necessary. No other proposal from contracting parties was put forward.

Since the close of the meeting the Government of Greenland has carefully reviewed and considered all possible solutions and ways forward. We furthermore remain committed to continue working towards a situation where the IWC can fulfin its purpose and implement its mandate, including ensuring that management decisions are based on sound scientific evidence.

In order to ensure uninterrupted subsistence whaling in Greenland and based on a decision by the Government of Greenland, aboriginal whaling in Greenland continues on a temporary basis respecting scientific advice through to a renewed decision by the International Whaling Commission in 2014. Main objectives for the continued whaling have been to avoid illegal hunting and at the same time, to satisfy needs of the Greenlandic population.

Aboriginal whaling is an important and integrated part of Greenland´s ability to meet its needs. A situation without whaling, due to an absence of catch limits, is unsustainable, and bears a high risk of seriosly affecting the population in Greenland.

IWC Contracting Governments have a shared joint responsibility in ensuring the legimate subsistence whaling needs of Greenland. The obligation (Schedule paragraph 13(a)) to establish catch limits has not been fulfilled by the Commission.

The Government of Greenland has on this background been forced to establish catch limits for 2013 and 2014 based on the latest advice from the Scientific Committee and conducted in accordance with the principles set out in Schedule paragraph 13.(a). The management authorities of Greenland whaling will closely monitor the catch situation and ensure consistency with the principles established under Schedule paragraph 13(a) and conformity with previous decisions by the International Whaling Commission. Greenland will continue to fully respect the advice of the IWC Scientific Committee and to meet any reporting requirements by the International Whaling Commission.

The Government of Greenland will advise the Danish Authorities to submit a proposal to amend Schedule paragraph 13(b)3 at the next ordinary meeting of the International Whaling Commission for the remaining block quota period 2015 through 2018. Such a proposal shall be based on and follow the most recent advice by the Scientific Committee at the time of the submission with the possible to revise the submitted proposal if the advice given by the Scientific Committee change before the meeting of the Commission.

The Government of Greenland remains committed to ensure that aboriginal subsistence whaling is based solely on sound scientific evidence. We reiterate our profound concern and dismay that aboriginal subsistence whaling has been subjected to disproportional political and ideologinal disputes.

A situation without aboriginal subsistence whaling due to absence of catch limits is unprecedented, not in accordance with the convention and therefore not an option. If IWC cannot be made functional in the future then Greenland wil be forced to act on its own.


In addition to the topical question of quotas we can inform yoy that whaling in Greenland is strictly regulated by national legislations. Only professional hunters with approved hunting gear, and whaling vessels can receive a license for hunting of large whales. Cannons with harpoon grenades are used for the main part of the hunted whales. This ensures a rapid and humane death of the whale. The grenades are very costly - 600 to 800 English pounds pr. grenade - so money is a necessity, that is - if animal welfare considerations should be taken into account and that is a requirement according to Greenlandic law.

Whale meat is a natural product that does not need any anthropogenic produced fertilizers or pesticides, i.e. it is a 100 % environmental-friendly source of “green food”. The subsistence whaling reduces the need for our import of western food; which also helps in reducing the global CO2-emissions. By a higher level of utilization and local distribution of our own resources, we will also reduce and limit modern life style diseases that are occurring more often in Greenland.

The whale products are distributed within the hunter families, and some of it is also legally sold on the local open-markets. Furthermore a smaller part of the hunt is processed, according to EU veterinary standards, in two localities in Greenland, in order to cover the needs of those local communities, not having access to their own whaling vessel or those communities having a meat deficit. No whale products are exported out of The Kingdom. The income from whaling is limited; nobody becomes wealthy by Greenlandic whaling. The money is mainly used to maintain the combined whaling and fishing vessels and the hunting equipment. Local sale of whale products whether to hotels, restaurants or anyone coming in to the local open market are allowed by executive order.

We hope our answer has clarified some of your concerns regarding the Greenlandic whaling.

For further information on Greenlandic whaling and its need for whale products, please read:

White Paper on Management and Utilization of Whales in Greenland

Note on the Greenland Needs Statement 

On the Greenland self-governing arrangement


Best regards,

Ministry of Fisheries, Hunting and Agriculture