Narwhal massacre in Arctic

A New Zealand whale expert has found dozens of massacred narwhals on the east coast of Greenland.

Dr Ingrid Visser, founder of New Zealand’s Orca Research Trust, found the carcasses of 48 narwhals while guiding tourists on a nature cruise in Arctic waters.

The narwhal, which has a single long tusk, is a small Arctic whale long hunted for its “ivory”.

The whale bodies were in the Romerfjord, south of the isolated eastern Greenland town of Ittoqqortoormiit.

The crise, on the Polar Pioneer, was being run by Aurora Expeditions, said Greg Mortimer, a company spokesman in Sydney.

Dr Visser, the ship’s naturalist, told a local newspaper, Sermitsiaq, that she found 48 whales, and only three of the carcasses had been butchered for meat.

On many of the other whales, only the tusks had been taken.

The mayor of Ittoqqortoormiit was quoted in the newspaper as saying that five or six boats had taken the whale in a hunt, but had to leave some of their catch behind because of a lack of space in the boats.

“The idea was to go back to the site … to collect the rest, but then the weather turned bad,” mayor Erling Madsen said.

Dr Visser told the newspaper that if the hunters had planned to recover meat, it was odd that they had not beached many of the carcasses.

“It is unethical to shoot more animals than can be used,” she said.

A Danish newspaper, Politiken, said the New Zealander’s discovery had divided hunting and tourism interests , particularly since some of the 200 photographs the expedition took showed narwhal calves among the dead.

Greenland bans hunting of calves and lactating mothers, and also bans leaving edible or usable parts of whales at hunting grounds.

“The discovery has led to hefty debate in Greenland, which fears bad media coverage, which in turn would harm the country’s attempts to increase its whale hunt quota,” the newspaper said.

Fisheries Minister Finn Karlsen said on Greenland Radio that he was frustrated about the episode: “At a time when there is so much focus on our living resources this can really affect our reputation.”

Eastern Greenland has no quotas limiting the narwhal hunt, and it is not illegal to sell the tusks inside Greenland. They are worth about $NZ3000 on the legal market, but are highly prized by collectors overseas.