April 13, 1881 Bulletin of the United States Fish Commission.
PROTECTION OF WHALES*
As Norwegian laws cannot be enforced outside of Norwegian territory, the law of June 19, 1880, regulating the protection of whales on the coast of Finmarken, left it to the King to determine the limits of that portion of the sea to which protection should be applied. We have recently communicated a royal proclamation of January 5, 1851, giving the limits referred to. According to this the zone of protection extends one geographical mile from the coast, counted from the outermost islands which are never under water. In the Varangerfiord the outer limit of the zone of protection is a straight line from Kibergnas to Grause-Jacobselv; at Kibergnas, however, protection is to be enforced also outside that line at a distance less than one geographical mile from the coast.
The season of protection extends from the beginning of the year till the end of May. It is not easy to say beforehand what influence this limitation of the fishing season will have on the whale-fisheries, which are carried on in spring during the capelin-fisheries, and during summer.
We do not possess sufficient data to show the result of the fisheries prior to the 1st of June and after that date.Svend Foyn has informed us that of 45 whales caught by him in 1876, 5 were caught during the period May 8--when fishing commenced--till the 1st of June; in 1877, 13 whales were caught prior to the 1st of June, and in 1878, when altogether 97 were caught, 19 were caught prior to that date.
The difference shown above is, therefore, brought about by the early or late commencement of the season and by the varying length of the capelin-fisheries; it should also be borne in mind that a number of whales are caught every year outside the zone of protection, where fishing is free all the year round.
The whale-fisheries have increased in importance of late years and form a considerable source of income to a number of our population. As far as we remember, Svend Foyn commenced operations in good earnest in 1868, and during the next eight or ten years he averaged 20 to 50 whales a year. After that period his fisheries increased rapidly; thus, in 1878 he caught 97 whales; in 1879, 83; and in 1880, 85. A joint stock company, Jarfiord, in 1879 caught 45 whales, and in 1880, 60.
These favorable results have stirred up a spirit of speculation, and recently there have been founded in and near Tonsberg; no less than three new joint-stock companies for working the whale-fisheries, viz, the Stokke Company, which has bought a harbor at Pasvik, near Jarfiord, the Finmarken Company, which possesses a harbor in West Finmarken, on the south coast of the island of Soro, and the Westfold Company, which has a harbor on the island of Magero, near the North Cape. Each of these companies has a considerable capital and employs a steamer.
Whilst the protective law was being discussed, there was a great difference of opinion as to the advisability and necessity of limiting such important fisheries, already involving considerable interests; and the majority of the committee (of the Norwegian Parliament) who had the matter in charge were opposed to it. What finally decided the committee to declare in favor of a protective law was undoubtedly a regard to the very generally prevailing opinion that the whale-fisheries have exercised a hurtful influence on the cod-fisheries (capelin-fisheries):
The cod follows the capelin, and the capelin, it is said, is chased towards the coast by the whale. It was maintained that the capelin would stay away if the whales were exterminated, and it was also said that the manner in which the whale-fisheries are carried on, the noise of the steamers, the shooting, &c., disturbed the capelin and chased them away from the coast, and that the filth inseparably connected with the preparing of the whale after it is caught would fill the sea-water and the coast with impurities and refuse, and thereby keep the capelin away.
Science does not share this opinion, but maintains that the capelin seeks the coast in order to spawn; but that the whale only comes to seek food. It also is well to draw a comparison between the whales and the schools of herrings which periodically approach the southern coast of Norway. There is an old law prohibiting the catching of whales in a herring-fiord; but no spring-herring fisherman will at this day entertain the opinion that the whale chases the herrings towards the coast. Not even in the southern portion of Norway could any movement be set on foot against the steamship traffic as a means of chasing the herrings from the coast.
Greater weight might possibly be attached to another reason advanced in favor of a protective law, viz, that an unlimited fishing season would diminish the number of whales, and seriously endanger the future of the whale-fisheries. A reckless destruction of whales during the spawning season would certainly be a most senseless proceeding; and if we consider that last year no less than 145 whales were caught on a comparatively small extent of coast, such a fear is not entirely unfounded.
Not long ago it has been found necessary to conclude an international convention between Norway, Sweden, Germany, Denmark, and England for the purpose of protecting the seal during its spawning season against the war of extermination waged against it near Iceland, Greenland, and Jan Mayen. It is to be hoped that it will be more generally recognized that we owe it to the coming generations to protect the useful and interesting animal life of the Arctic and Antarctic regions