Are there any "Western" adventure packages for those who want to try hunting whales?

I'm aware of a number of Japanese and Indonesian whaling tours, but we've taken our last several vacations in Asia and would prefer to explore other regions. So by "Western" I mainly just mean non-Asian and at least someone on staff probably speaks some English.

I'm thinking Norway or Iceland, probably. I understand that Iceland and Norway are leading whale hunters, especially for Minke whales.

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    To be clear, you are talking about killing the whales, right? Not just going to look at them? – Nate Eldredge Mar 7 '16 at 5:19
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    @NateEldredge Hunting them, yes. Not the endangered kind or anything. I read Moby Dick as a kid and always wanted to try whaling, if just for a day. Catch and release would be fine by me too, but I don't think they really do that with whales. – user987234 Mar 7 '16 at 5:22
  • @NateEldredge I see. I didn't realize that. Yes, hunt like with a harpoon. – user987234 Mar 7 '16 at 5:25
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    Since you cited Iceland, do you realize that only 15% of the whales they harvested in 2015 were non-endangered? The rest were on the endangered list. Accompanying a hunt there might not meet that part of your criteria. – user13044 Mar 7 '16 at 7:01
  • There is the Faroese "Grindadrap", the English Wikipedia article was not very helpful but see for example: dailymail.co.uk/news/article-3173617/… . I'm sure you could ask the Faroese tourism board about this visitfaroeislands.com . (I understand this is a controversial subject; this is also evident from the first link I posted.) – Jørgen Mar 8 '16 at 12:33

Regarding killing whales: legally, what you're describing is a very murky grey area (example US summary). You might be breaking international law, you might be breaking your own country's laws by doing this overseas, you might even be breaking a seldom-enforced law in the country where the tour is operated. For an example of what can happen when someone trusts, as you do, that the local organisers have ensured everything is okay legally and morally, and kills a much-loved animal overseas, see the case of Cecil the lion. It didn't go well for the hunter.

Regarding sportingly pursuing whales: there is a very good, 100% legal alternative, with no killing, harm or even distress to any whales, just a sporting hunt in the "find and seek" sense of the word, then peaceful mammal-to-mammal interaction. This looks like a good option since the asker mentioned they want:

Tradition, fun, thrill-seeking, and ... generally awesome ... Catch and release would be fine by me too

In Tonga (English-speaking) and I believe a few other countries, you can do tours which are like hunting whales, except when you catch up with the whales, instead of blasting them with an explosive harpoon which frankly can't miss because you're aiming at a frigging whale (in terms of challenge, surely the sporting equivalent of kicking a ball into the side of a barn), you jump out the boat with a pair of fins and a snorkel and swim with the whales. Mammal to mammal, minimal technology.

If that doesn't sound awesome, check out the final scene from the "Mammals" episode of BBC's Planet Earth series, where you see the boat crew and underwater camera crew chasing humpback whales in Tonga. I can't currently watch video but I think the appropriate clips are on this page (feel free to edit in a better link).

If it's tradition you want, I'd firmly recommend the way I did this, which is from Eueiki Island in Tonga. The owner of this private island has a motorised canoe based on the traditional design that the first Polynesians used to colonise this part of the South Pacific - those ancient Polynesians knew what they were doing, and it's faster and quieter than the other whale boats around (as well as very stylish). He also has 100% traditional sailing canoes and is an expert sailor, but it'd take a long long time to catch a whale the 100% traditional way.

You'll go with a Tongan navigator who knows all the traditional tricks for reading the seas and working out where a whale may pop up next. It's very difficult, and it makes for great sport. (certainly, a more honest sporting challenge than using radar then blasting one of the world's biggest mammals with an exploding harpoon)

Then you have to be ready to jump in the open sea at a moment's notice when you finally catch up with a whale. Usually there will be two or three whales together (mother, calf and male escort is pretty common), and, if you can keep up with them, you'll get an unforgettable half hour or so diving underwater, watching them in their natural habitat, swimming up to the surface as they do to see them breach, etc. Whale calves are quite curious too, you might get a little unforgettable interaction as a van-sized baby whale swims up to take a closer look at you.

If you do want to kill things too... Well, that's still an option. The owner of the island is a keen spear-fisher, and has a dog who's trained to bark when suitable fish swim close to shore. There's excellent snorkelling all around the island, and if you can convince him that you know what you're doing with a spear-fishing gun, I'm sure he'll point you in the right direction to hunt your supper. (not whales though, that's very very illegal)

Regarding ethics, some organisations speculate that whale-swimming trips might alter whale behaviour, and so in Tonga, to protect the whales, there's a law that you can't go too close to the whales. It was 30m when I went, might have changed - but in those crystal-clear waters, that's easily close enough, and frankly, going closer than this unless you're a trained professional would be very dangerous anyway.

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  • That's a pretty good answer! I'm not too worried about the ethics of it and I know there are many places it's legal. It's just a matter of personal preference, but my wife and I would love nothing more than to harpoon a whale, especially with an "old school" rig from generations past. No one says we have to use a radar or anything we feel is unsporting. Still, you give a lot of good options and I would not have thought of Tonga. I'm going to mark this as the solution. – user987234 Mar 7 '16 at 11:02
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    Just to be clear - there's absolutely no harpooning in this option. The spear-fishing is strictly for fish only. But you can shoot the whales with a waterproof camera, if you have one! The tour organiser also provides a Go-Pro. – user56reinstatemonica8 Mar 7 '16 at 11:04
  • I hear you. In reality I'll probably go with a company in Norway I exchanged emails with if they can match us with another 10 people, but I don't like to mark my own answers as the solution. I think this was a good answer so I'm marking it the solution. – user987234 Mar 7 '16 at 11:06
  • The killer of Cecil the Lion wasn't charged with anything, unfortunately. – JonathanReez Mar 10 '16 at 11:19
  • True, but he still faced plenty of consequences. That's why I say "legally and morally" – user56reinstatemonica8 Mar 10 '16 at 11:25

No, there's no way you will be able to do it. In order to hunt in Norway you need a license from the Government:

Norwegian Whaling is subject to strict and detailed regulations concerning all aspects of the whaling activities. There are rules for hunting seasons, quotas, equipment and monitoring. The permission to go whaling is given on an annual basis, and there are certain requirements that must be met in order to get a licence.

One of the most important conditions is the unconditional requirement of having passed the obligatory course for licence holders and gunners. The training courses are mandatory and arranged by the Directorate of Fisheries.

Each year prior to the beginning of each hunting season, the hunters are required to pass obligatory shooting tests, both with rifle and harpoon guns

So they won't let tourists tag along and start blasting away with the harpoons.

As a cultural point please note that in Europe the majority of people find whale hunting barbaric. It would be considered offensive to even ask about it. Even in the parts of Norway and Iceland where they do this sort of hunting, asking to take part would be a very strange request. It would be a bit like a tourist in America turning up at the docks wanting to go out on a commercial trawler.

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Generally, whaling on a commercial level is frowned upon, and mostly banned by 88 member states of the International Whaling Commission. There is a whale sanctuary in the Southern Ocean, and even when Japan or South Korea takes some whales for 'scientific' purposes, it's widely condemned.

However, even Greenpeace, one of the staunchest supporters of anti-whaling movements, was the first to congratulate an Inuit group recently when they did some traditional whaling again.

Indeed, since 1991, the Inuit have been allowed to hunt under a strict quota.

So while generally you're unlikely to find legal, publicized hunting trips, if you could - bonding with or contacting an Inuit group and asking to go along with them on one of their traditional hunts may give you an appreciation for their culture, without adding unnecessarily to the death count of whales worldwide.

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  • Commercial whaling is actually banned by the IWC states. Unless you're adopting the attitude that Japan's *cough* *cough* scientific whaling is, in reality, commercial whaling by a different name. – David Richerby Mar 7 '16 at 16:05
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    @DavidRicherby no, I was more trying to not go into the detail that the IWC have a moratorium rather than a ban, and that many of them have exceptions or limited catch numbers for indigenous groups or indeed, as you put it 'scientific' whaling. – Mark Mayo Mar 7 '16 at 21:14

Among members of the International Whaling Commision, whaling is only allowed for "scientific research" (*cough* *cough*) and on a small and strictly limited scale by certain indigenous populations (see the schedule to the International Convention on the Regulation of Whaling, most recently updated in 2014). Some whaling countries are not members of the IWC and undertake whaling commercially, under government regulation.

Among IWC members, hunting for sport is not a legal activity, since it is not permitted by the Convention; among non-members, I doubt that sport-hunting is permitted and, in any case, the quota will have been allocated to commercial hunters. For example, Iceland's annual quota is only one or two hundred whales (Wikipedia): I'd be very surprised if they "gave" one of those whales to a sport-hunter.

And, no, you can't catch and release with a harpoon. It makes an explosion and a big hole.

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  • Japan, Indonesia, Norway, and Iceland all have lots of whaling. Here's what I'm looking for, but not in the ideal location for the current trip: megakomodotours.com/lembata-island-tours-of-indonesia/… I believe Norway currently allows hunters to slay up to 1,000 minke whales per season and a few hundred of other varieties of the beast, no? – user987234 Mar 7 '16 at 10:14

I finally found an expedition company with a Sami (Native lapland) adventure in Norway that will offer tourist the chance to hunt whales, herd reindeer, go sledding and spend the night in a Sami lavuu.

I e-mailed them (and about 10 other places) to get more info and confirm.

Now my remaining research question is, is there any other company that offers this cheaper (?!).

The price is about $13,000 for 14 people and it's not until next year. My group size is also not that big. We are 2 people and maybe 2 friends would come along, but we'd have to rely on their company to match us with at least 10 other people.

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    I can't actually see any mention of whales on that link? – user56reinstatemonica8 Mar 7 '16 at 12:01
  • @user568458 It actually does mention whales briefly, at least on their website (you may need to go one level up to where it just has a 1 paragraph blurb about the Sami Lapland trip) but like I was saying you have to email them to discuss details. I emailed like 10 places last night, got 3 responses thusfar. 2 no's and 1 yes. – user987234 Mar 7 '16 at 12:46
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    I suppose they don't want to advertise illegal activities on their website, but can perhaps “accommodate” when someone with sufficiently deep pockets actively asks. Probably making sure they are not thrown in jail themselves. – gerrit Mar 7 '16 at 14:27
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    They mention whales, but certainly not hunting them! You definitely won't be allowed to hunt them as you aren't certified with the Norwegian Ministry of Fisheries as a qualified harpoonist. The "yes" reply you received was probably from somebody who didn't fully understand you wanted to hunt them due to language issues. – Dan Tool Mar 7 '16 at 14:38
  • @DanTool Or someone who is pretty sure that the Norwegian police are not going to inspect who is holding the harpoon mid hunt. – CMaster Mar 8 '16 at 9:15

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