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Environment and History

'Whaling and the Extermination of the Great Whale': Norwegian and British Debate about Whale Stocks in Antarctica, 1913-1939

Didrik Dyrdal

Environment and History 25 (2019): 87-115. doi: 10.3197/096734018X15137949592043

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This article examines Norwegian and British investigations of the threat of Antarctic whale extinction in the interwar period. At the time, whaling fleets hunted populations of hundreds of thousands of whales into the remnants that exist today. From the perspective of scientists and observers at the time, however, it was less obvious that whale populations declined. The article investigates what experts and the public knew about the health of Antarctic whale stocks. It contributes to existing research about whale science and whaling diplomacy in two ways. First, it documents in more depth when and how a consensus about whale decline emerged. Secondly, it studies not only experts but also public discussion about the issue in the newspapers. It aims to understand the public assessment of whale stocks. The article finds that concern over Antarctic whaling surfaced in expert British circles from around 1913, but that it did not become a serious issue in Norway before the late 1920s. In the mid-1930s, accumulated statistics in conjunction with new methods created a rough consensus among experts that whale stocks had declined. From the late 1920s, there was intense Norwegian public interest in Antarctic whale stocks, which likewise moved to a consensus on decline around the mid-1930s. The media's attention to the whale stock issue, however, often depended on strong personalities and relied on different types of evidence.

KEYWORDS: Antarctica, environmental consciousness, extinction, polar science, whaling, history of knowledge


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