Would you eat Whale?

Written By: The Planet D

It was something we were dead set against before traveling to Greenland. We heard the whaling debates on the news here in Canada. The Inuit had fought for the right to continue hunting whales while the rest of us sat back in our cozy homes eating fast food, judging their right to continue their ‘tradition.’ That’s how we understood it. Why should they continue an ancient tradition in the modern world when there are alternatives to eating whales? And then we visited Greenland.

Whale is a Staple food in Greenland

We’ve said many times that travel is the best education. You can read all the books and articles you want, but until you experience something firsthand, you can’t truly understand it.

Living in the Arctic is difficult. It would be impossible for the rest of us without the help of modern living, but the Aboriginal Peoples of the far North have adapted and thrived on living in extreme conditions. We all assume that they can just go to the supermarket like the rest of us to buy their meats and cheeses or they can grow tomatoes and corn in gardens to replace hunting whales. That is simply not true.

Flying in food is expensive. Greenland relies on all their imports from Denmark.

Why People Eat Whale in Greenland

eating-whale-greenland-5
Greenland Supermarket: Where hunters sell their daily catch.

Ships with food come into the Capital City of Nuuk and some go to Sisimuit, but distribution is not easy. Greenland is also very difficult to travel around. None of the country’s communities are connected to each other. There are no roads leading in and out of villages. There is a polar Icecap in the way, so the only way to get around is by ship or flight.

It’s not like there are regular flights to Greenland bringing in Chiquita bananas and Florida oranges to everyone. Ports are few and far between and if you live outside the capital or main villages, you must rely on yourself.

Growing anything on the Arctic Tundra is nearly impossible. They live above the tree line and nothing but moss and arctic shrubs can survive in such extreme conditions. While we eat chicken and beef, their staples are whale, seal, and reindeer.

Whale Hunting History

Minke Whale is their source of Vitamin C
Minke Whale is their source of Vitamin C

The Inuit have hunted whales for centuries. They have found a balance in the ecosystem. Unlike the white man that hunted whales to near extinction for the purpose of wealth and oil; Greenlanders and indigenous communities hunt for food, nutrients, and survival. It can be difficult to comprehend.

Unlike our trip to Antarctica where whales were curious and welcoming because they have nothing to fear, whales in the Arctic fear man and avoid ships. They are hunted regularly here and even spotting seals up here is difficult. Everything is fair game for hunting.

Whales have a long memory

Humpback Whale Tail
Humpback Whale Tail

The Bowhead whale can live up to 200 years and it has a strong memory. You can bet that they have taught their offspring to steer clear of man and ships. So when a ship comes anywhere near a pod of whales, their first instinct is to dive.

As tourists, we all go to these destinations to spot whale whale.

We revere them and know how intelligent and special they are. How can we condone killing whales? But when I stop to think of it, why do we condone eating any mammal?

Pigs here in Canada suffer daily on their way to the slaughterhouse. They are raised in inhumane conditions and are packed into meat trucks before being abused with cattle prods forcing them up a ramp to their deaths.

Dave was filming once beside the pig abattoir in Toronto and couldn’t handle the screams coming from the truck. Hundreds are killed each day and don’t even have a quality of life leading up to their death. And yet, everyone in our society goes on and on about how they can’t live without bacon.

Strict Rules in Greenland for Hunting Whale

Seal meat is also very popular.
Seal meat is also very popular.

Greenlanders kill about 175 whales per year. This includes the Minke Whale that has the highest population of whales at 200,000. But it also includes the Narwhal that is endangered with approximately 20,000-50,000 remaining.

A Narwhal is one of the most elusive whales in the world.

Narwhals are known as the Unicorn of the Sea because of their single long tusk. We are told that the Inuit are only allowed to hunt for Narwhal by kayak, but as I dig deeper into my research, I see that in some parts of Greenland and Northern Canada, high-speed boats are used.

We do question, “why are they allowed to hunt an endangered animal at all. Can’t they stick to hunting the whales that are less endangered?”

Whales offer Vitamin C to Isolated Communities

According to our guides, Narwhal offers important nutrients like vitamin C. However, I don’t see why other whale skins don’t supply vitamin C. Caribou Liver, Kelp and Seal Brain also supply vitamin C, so maybe Narwhal hunting should be banned.

Should they ban Narwhal Hunting to Inuit

As one person stated on our expedition, “I can understand tradition and culture, but I can’t condone contributing to the extinction of a species when there are other alternatives.”

However, when Inuit hunt whales, they kill one. They use it to feed their families for an entire season. If they catch a Bowhead, this can feed their family for a year. They didn’t contribute to the near extinction of whales. Our ancestors did. Taking a few a year won’t wipe out a population of 20,000.

It’s the countries like Norway and Japan that take hundreds more each year who should have to stop whaling. It isn’t essential to Japan’s survival. If the Inuit are responsible people and don’t overfish, why shouldn’t they be allowed to consume Narwhal? The Greenland People only have a few things that supply Vitamin C. They should be allowed to get their nutrients it any way they can.

Would You Eat Whale?

eating-whale-greenland-4

At one of our stops in the Town of Sisimiut, we had the opportunity to taste the local cuisine. One of the best ways to delve into a culture is to try their food. At least that’s what we always say. When their cuisine is in line with our beliefs it’s easy to write about it and say, “Try the local cuisine, it’s the best part of travel.”

People won’t judge you if you try Ox Tail or Pigs Feet. But how will we feel about tasting Seal Soup or Whale Skin. What will our friends, family, and peers think. What will people think of us?

On the other hand, what is the difference between trying lamb, alpaca, guinea pig or any other cute animal that people like? We’ve tried eating cute animals in other countries like kangaroo and ostrich. While we don’t make a point of eating things like this on a regular basis and stick to a mostly vegetarian diet, we have always been open to giving things a try when visiting other cultures.

So why should Greenland be any different? What’s your take?

A local restaurant in the town of Sisimiut set up a tasting buffet for us at the local museum. They called it the Taste of Greenland and we had the opportunity to try Minke Whale, Narwhal Seal Blubber, Dried Cod and Shrimp.We decided not to try the Narwhal, since it is endangered but had a taste of everything else.

would you eat whale

It was a beautiful display of food but completely strange and controversial. It looked just like a buffet would be displayed in Canada or Europe containing more traditional meats. But it certainly wasn’t.

When you go to Sisimiut, you too can try local cuisine at the Café Norður – meaning North, at the Hotel Sisimiut and at the Restaurant Nasaasaaq.

So, here is the question. If you went to Greenland would you try whale? Do you try the local cuisine at other countries you travel to?

For more adventures in eating with Dave and Deb check out…

Quark Expeditions invited us to experience their Greenland Explorer Tour. All commentary is our own and we’ll be giving you an honest view of what it’s like to take a Quark Cruise.

Whale tail Photo Credit: Quark Expedition Staff Dr. Chris.

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About The Planet D

Dave Bouskill and Debra Corbeil are the owners and founders of The Planet D. After traveling to 115 countries, on all 7 continents over the past 13 years they have become one of the foremost experts in travel. Being recognized as top travel bloggers and influencers by the likes of Forbes Magazine, the Society of American Travel Writers and USA Today has allowed them to become leaders in their field.

Leave a Comment

37 thoughts on “Would you eat Whale?”

  1. Great debating point. I think the Inuit should be able to hunt whale, as you say they feed their families with it and it was our ancestors, not theirs, that brought the whales close to extinction. You debate both sides well.

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  2. I’d be more likely to try whale in Greenland where the practice is a part of their survival and cultural heritage. I’d never try it in a place like Japan where whales are killed for “research.” It’s just like shark fin and birds nest soups in China – damaging to the environment and completely unnecessary.

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    • Well said Heather. I’d never try it anywhere else. I don’t think anyone should be importing whale for no reason. It’s different when it’s a form of survival. I also agree about the birds next soup and shark fin. It’s not acceptable at all.

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  3. This is such a great post and an important discussion to have and carry forward. I loved that you wrote about the difference between condoning activities that threaten the existence of a species (such as whale hunting in Japan) and the practices in Greenland which have little impact on endangered species.

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    • It’s oily and chewy and wasn’t my favourite, but it was interesting to try. The Minke Whale is placed in the not at risk category of engangered species, but I still wouldn’t eat them outside of a place like Greenland where hunting is strictly regulated.

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  4. Great photos! Love the close-up shots of the seal and the whale meat. I’d definitely try whale (and seal), given the chance. I never got around to it when I was in Iceland… Instead I tried hakarl, puffin, and other fun (and delicious) dishes. What was the cost like of whale relative to other foods? Was it priced as a ‘delicacy’ or was it in line with the other imported foods?

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  5. If the whale was hunted responsibly like it is in Greenland, I would probably give it a try!

    However, I would never support such an industry in places like Japan, etc., where it is not a necessity and they only add to overfishing.

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  6. Never say never! I suppose I would eat whale if I was in a desperate situation i.e no food. It’s an interesting social conundrum. While I was in Malaysia I faced a similar situation regarding turtle eggs. They are illegal to eat everywhere but Malaysia and the turtles themselves are endangered.

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  7. I see your point and agree that the Inuit should have a right to hunt and eat whales. I would have even tried it when there. But still, I wouldn’t support this in general. Like when I see what Japan and I think Norway does, that sucks! There is no need for them to hunt whales and there is a difference to pigs and cows.
    The pigs and cows we eat in the Western Hemisphere were born to get eaten. This is very bad for the individual animal, especially the way most get handled. But that’s up to you to change your habits, which doesn’t even mean becoming vegetarian. We buy food not just from a local butcher, but from one where we know that he got his meat from local farmers. And we do not eat meat every day, but maybe once, twice per week.
    If whales get all hunted, there are none left and therefore needs protection. They don’t get ‘produced’ for supermarket goods.
    Still, I agree with your post and the Inuit should have a right to eat whale for themselves.

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  8. I still remember being in Iceland and seeing a menu with both Whale and Puffin on it.

    We talked about trying it, but neither of us could bring ourselves to do it.

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  9. I would eat the whale meat if it is legal to do it. Here in our country eating whale meat is prohibited because they are label as endangered species. Maybe I can go there to try it so that I will not be in jail. LOL.

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    • Hi Kristy. That is a great point. Yes in places like Greenland where they hunt responsibly it’s legal, but I believe many parts of the world don’t allow whale meat. I can’t imagine people importing whale meat in these days when it’s not an essential part of their diet like in Greenland. Minke whales numbers are the best of all whales. Because they are one of the smaller whales, they weren’t hunted as much as the large bow whales and humpback…but yes, all whales are precious. And I wouldn’t want to eat them outside a place Greenland where it’s a local cuisine. It’s not something I would order on a menu if I saw it elsewhere for sure.

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  10. We’ve had whale numerous times in Iceland and Svalbard and we enjoy it. Though we’ve never had it raw. The steaks are quite lean and delicious when prepared properly.

    I know the Inuit even still hunt polar bears. I suppose in those harsh conditions and with limited wildlife that can actually survive in the high arctic, it’s understandable that they have to hunt what they can to survive. I also agree that trying the local food is part of understanding the culture.

    Reply
    • That’s good to hear. I assume that if the whale is cooked a lot of the oil and blubber goes away. But then I assume that a lot of the nutrients go with it. That’s probably the reason they eat it raw. You are right, I forgot to mention Polar Bears but yes, they do still hunt them as well. Everything is fair game up there when food is at a premium.

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  11. I LOVE whale….for SUPPER!

    I have a sweatshirt that I got in Barrow when the grey whales were stuck in the ice. On one side it says “we saved the whales” and on the back it says “For supper” . I couldn’t agree more, long live local foods.

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  12. I don’t know if I would or not! After watching you eat it I don’t think I could handle it. I’m not very brave with trying new foods.

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    • Dave couldn’t handle it. He’s not brave either. Or maybe you two are just the smart ones and it has nothing to do with being brave…:-)

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  13. Really great points. I am a vegan but totally agree with you – they cannot live that way in that area. I also agree that if you have the opportunity to not eat meat why torture any animal simply for a few minutes of gustatory pleasure. I also agree that they should not hunt an animal that is near extinction if they can get the same source of vitamins etc… from something else they can acquire. Well done – and no I don't think I'd eat it. LOL. I would love to go to Greenland but am worried I'd find nothing to eat. Do they have beans, lentils? Anything along those lines?

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    • You are right, I don’t think it is possible to be a vegan and live in Greenland. Maybe if you lived in Nuuk, but it would be very expensive too. I think it’s ok to visit for tourists. We were on an expedition ship and had our meals on board, but in places like Nuuk and Sisimiut there were places to eat. I’m sure there were some options.

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  14. I’ve never had the opportunity to try whale, but I would give it a go if I ever go to Greenland, like you said I’m willing to try other unusual meats in other parts of the world, so this isn’t really that different.

    You said you ate the whale meat raw, is that how the locals usually eat it? Or is that just one way of many?

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    • Yep, that’s how I felt, if I can try something elsewhere, why not whale in Greenland. I do believe they eat it raw. This is the traditional way it is prepared. I believe it has the highest concentration of nutrients when raw. I’m imagining all the good stuff like vitamin C being cooked out of it if they didn’t eat it raw.

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  15. For starters, I agree that it’s important to do your best to understand other cultures (with sampling foods being just one component of that) and I applaud your willingness to be empathetic to their side of the story.

    I strongly believe in eating food from humane, sustainable sources — so long as the whale/seal was hunted as responsibly as you detailed, yes, I’d try it. Our world has much larger issues than Greenland hunting a few whales for cultural or subsistence reasons, but that’s a whole different post…

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    • Hi Becky, you are so right. Sampling food is only one component, there is so much more to understanding a culture than eating their food. But it’s a good introduction for sure. I don’t know if I deserve an applause, but thank you. I figure, I am not a vegetarian, so if I can eat a cow on the ship, what’s the difference in eating a whale. And yes, we have a lot more issues out there then Greenland hunting their quota of whales.

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  16. I was recently in Greenland and made the decision to try minke whale. I figured it was there, part of a traditional meal, and offered to me as a guest. By not eating it when offered, I would have made a political point but possibly have offended my hosts, which I was loathe to do. It was not my favourite thing, in fact I found it a little unpleasant, but I felt it was important to demonstrate my willingness to understand the traditions of the north, without judgement based on my own biases – after all, Greenlanders are only able to capture 212 for subsistence reasons per year (according to BBC: http://bbc.in/160qjXC)

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    • Thanks for the link Helen, I understood it was 175, but those numbers were probably older and it’s been up to 212. Yes, not a large number by any means. And I agree with you, it’s unpleasant to eat.

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  17. I love controversial pieces. Thank you for showing all sides of the story here. I love animals, but I also love meat. I’m one of those can’t live without bacon people, but would probably be heartbroken if I witnessed the slaughter of pigs. With that being said, I agree that eating local foods is the best way to immerse yourself in that culture and would most likely try whale if given the opportunity. I’m with you though and would draw the line at an endangered species.

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  18. I think I will eat whale any day in fact a 50 ton whale has just been spotted on the Kenyan coastline and the residents can’t wait for the mammal to come ashore.

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    • Oh, I didn’t realize that it was on the menu in Kenya, do locals eat it regularly? do they hunt for it or wait for it to come ashore.

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      • Actually there is a near-shore migration route, where locals can observe the whales along their journey. Sometime they catch them for meat. 50 ton whale can feed about 2000 families here. And the oil from it’s liver is used to power motor boats.

  19. When I lived in Alaska, I tried muktuk which I thought was pretty gross. I also tried seal oil, which is used as a dip for chips, bread, etc. I’m not a fan of that either. I’d give whale another shot if it was prepared differently.

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    • That’s a good point. We ate it raw. I did enjoy the soy sauce and the spices that we dipped in, but they went away quickly and all that was left was the oil and the chewiness. I understand why they were hunted for their oil now back in the day, they are full of it.

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