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Whaling report calls Danish EU presidency into question

LONDON: Prior to the International Whaling Commission (IWC) meeting in July 2012, conservation groups have released a report calling for a change in Denmark’s policy on whaling which has caused conflict with fellow European Union members in recent years.  There are serious questions about how the Danish presidency of the EU can be maintained, given that its whaling policy doesn’t mesh with EU law.

Breaking Ranks, a new report, is backed by Pro Wildlife, Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA), Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society (WDCS), and Humane Society International (HSI), and documents how, for the past 20 years, Denmark has actively supported countries that practice commercial whaling, repeatedly leading to conflict within the EU because  EU law prohibits whale hunting and the commercial use of whale products.

“Despite its presidency position, Denmark is acting as an outsider to the EU and is undermining the efforts of the EU to better protect whales, something urgently needed,” said Pro Wildlife’s Sandra Altherr, one of the report’s two authors. “We call on Denmark to reconsider its whaling policy.”

Denmark wants to catch more whales – even endangered species

The new Danish Government, which took office last year, seems to be continuing the course of its predecessors. Just before taking over the EU presidency in January 2012, Denmark again opposed a common pro-conservation EU position on whaling.

Denmark’s  preparations for the forthcoming IWC in Panama (July 2-6) have been even more diplomatically provocative. Denmark has unilateraly applied for a renewed increase in whaling quotas for Greenland (a Danish overseas territory) without consulting other EU members over such a controversial move.

“This individualistic act causes irritations within the EU,” said report co-author Jennifer Lonsdale of  EIA. “Especially when holding the EU presidency, a country is expected to conduct itself in a transparent and coordinated way, seeking common ground rather than divisive action.”

Altherr added: “We recognise that the IWC grants quotas to those peoples who have a genuine subsistence need; however, Denmark is seeking significantly higher quotas than previously, even for highly endangered fin whales. It has deliberately avoided any debate with the EU, which is obliged to coordinate its position at international fora  including the IWC.”

Controversial balancing act

In addition to Greenland, Denmark’s other overseas territory, The Faroe Islands, have also been the cause of conflicts as they are not EU members but are represented by Denmark at international meetings such as the IWC. Both territories kill whales; the Faroe Islanders hunt pilot whales that are not subject to IWC quotas and Greenland’s whaling is authorised by the IWC under the special category of Aboriginal Subsistence Whaling, which allows non-commercial whaling for local consumption.

Conservation groups now believe that Denmark has to balance its obligations towards its overseas territories with its responsiblities as a member of the EU. However, Denmark goes far beyond its obligations towards these autonomous regions in actively promoting a pro-whaling agenda. For example, it tried late last year to prevent the EU from criticising Japan’s ‘scientific’ whaling.

Majority of Danes want to save, not slaughter, whales

Polls have shown that a mere five per cent of Danes support commercial whaling, and 75 per cent expect the Government to act against such pro-whaling policies – although the government continues to do the opposite.

“We are calling on the Danish Government to stop supporting commercial whaling and join with other EU members to strengthen effective whale conservation measures,” said Laura Döhring of WDCS.

Copies of the report are at and interviews are available on request. Please contact Jennifer Lonsdale at or telephone 020 7354 7960.



1. The Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) investigates and campaigns against environmental crime and abuses.

2. Breaking Ranks was commissioned by the agency Shifting Values, which works towards a change in values within animal welfare and conservation policies, and is published jointly by Pro Wildlife, Environmental Investigation Agency, Humane Society International, OceanCare and Whale & Dolphin Conservation Society.


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