Basted in Melted Blubber

The world faced an ecological crisis. Whaling had driven several species to the edge of complete extinction. Unless something was done, and done fast, it was possible that many whale species would be wiped from the worlds oceans in less than a decade.

So the International Whaling Commission was formed in order to place limits on the number of whales which could be harvested each year. The preliminary work was done in the 1930s with the signing of the International Agreement for the Regulation of Whaling.

That wasnt good enough for whale enthusiasts. There was a massive PR campaign conducted in the 1970s and 1980s by special interest groups which allied themselves with the Left. Documentaries on television and textbooks in the classroom pushed the idea that whales were super-intelligent, gentle, caring creatures. Humans, it was said, should study the gentle giants of the sea in order to gain some badly needed wisdom. We should try and scrutinize whalesong, searching for the advanced codes that must be there, in order to advance the science of mathematics and philosophy. There was even a popular science fiction movie where some incredibly heavy-handed irony was employed as whales saved the human race from extinction.

Most of this could be dismissed as originating from the fringe. But there was no denying that the favorite weapon in the Liberal arsenal was brought to bear in the struggle for public opinion. If you disagreed then youd be labeled as an uncaring, morally deficient jerk.

All of this was brought to mind when I read this news story. It seems that some schoolchildren in Japan can enjoy whale meat for their school lunch.

This isnt new. Both Norway and Japan have tried for decades to increase the number of whales that they harvest every year. Theyve been partially successful, but there have been some that call for the removal of the ban because most whale species can no longer be considered endangered. In fact, there appears to be no realistic justification for continueing the ban, and there hasn’t been such a justification for at least a decade.

What is the reaction from the Left? Pretty much what you expect, except that they voice a great deal of disdain for the commercial aspects of whaling as well as all the moral outrage.

I find that to be rather ironic, considering that the treaty which originally set up the whaling ban made no bones that the main concern was to protect an economic resource.

So what is my position? Let me just say that Im very curious to see what whale meat tastes like. Id already know except its so expensive that I cant afford to find out.

20 thoughts on “Basted in Melted Blubber”

  1. Here’s a Norwegian guy’s blog post which is a two-fer. First, it has a whale meat recipe. Second, it adds further details and numbers to the point James is making here.

    Here is a picture of Japanese cuts of whale meat. I think it is a cut from the shank, or brisket. It is tough to say.

  2. I understand your point was that the Treaty (a regulatory instrument) was successful and the economic resource was protected. I wonder how it was enforced.

    If your point was that excessive regulation created a marine pest that now requires control, we have many other examples. I remember that the colorful and noisy “loro barranquero” (river parrot) abruptly went from being protected species in South America to such an agricultural pest that the State had to finance extermination campaigns. One parrot on a perch may be funny, but ten million hungry parrots in a flock are a nightmare.

    As a Jew, I wonder if whalemeat is kosher. Is the whale considered a ruminant or a scaleless fish?

  3. Whale meat, and especially the blubber, contains enough poison to rate it as toxic waste, so I would be careful. And never mind the touchy-feely stuff, without the ban whales would be driven to extinction in short order. Tragedy of the commons, etc, etc.

  4. Two moe items:

    1) Japan an Norway regard acquatic mammals primarily as competitors for their fishing industries, so they want love to see them go extinct (with the exception of those species they likew to eat). Each year Japanese fishermen slaughter dolphins which migrate to a certain by in the most sadistic way possible, and or worse, they transport them alive to slaughterhouses in open trucks to maximize the paing the animals feel. Norway in its own term subsidizes the hunting of seals, so that their fishermsn can go on skinning baby seals alive.

    2) That said, sharks are in much greater danger of going extinct than whales, for to the Chinese sharkfin soup is one of most sought-after delicacies. There are soon going to be a quarter of a billion Chinese more who can afford that soup, so that many if not all shark speicies will very likely be hunted to extinction. There are bans against that, too, but the profit margin from the sale of fins from sharks caught illegally is higher than that from the sale of drugs, so that the bans aren’t going to stop anybody.

  5. Given the lack of oceanic property rights, whale hunting does indeed promote the tragedy of the commons effect. Overharvesting is thus assured sans some regulation.

    However, you are correct in pointing out how the neo-pagan spirituality of the 1970s transformed a simple economic problem into an anthropomorphic crusade. Suddenly, whales, dolphins, and porpoises became magical beings. Much bad art was made: posters, poetry, jewelry, and music (this one with whale songs and “the rain-like sounds of the local pistol shrimp”).

    Over time, what was once a necessary discussion of the appropriate responses to scarcity became a kitschy morality tale.

    In The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, dolphins are the second smartest beings on earth (behind white mice), while the only whale in the film is seen falling through the air, crushed as it hits solid ground on a distant planet, like some marine Wile E. Coyote.

  6. If your point was that excessive regulation created a marine pest that now requires control, we have many other examples.

    Nah, I was just amazed that people have accepted the claims about whales’ nuclear powered brains.

    As a Jew, I wonder if whalemeat is kosher. Is the whale considered a ruminant or a scaleless fish?

    Dunno. The baleen whales graze plankton, but they’re not above swallowing a few shrimp from time to time. The toothed whales are efficient and deadly predators.

    One thing is for sure. Neither type has any hooves, cloven or otherwise.

    Whale meat, and especially the blubber, contains enough poison to rate it as toxic waste, so I would be careful.

    I dunno about that, Ralf. One reason I was paying attention to this subject is because my co-worker has recently returned to his native Norway for a visit. He grew up on a diet of whale meat, and there certainly isn’t anything wrong with him.

    Considering the general health of people in Iceland, Norway and Japan, I’d say that there’s very little danger.

    …Chinese sharkfin soup is one of most sought-after delicacies. (snip) There are bans against that, too,…

    How in the world do you enforce a fishing ban on the Communist Chinese??? Have American submarines torpedo their fishing boats?


  7. How in the world do you enforce a fishing ban on the Communist Chinese???

    Inside their naval borders there’s no way, and outside of Chinese waters there are enough fishers to the catching for them. More’s the pity.

  8. I doubt that whale meat is kosher, as whales do not have the characterstics of other kosher mammals (cloven hooves, etc.) See this article, for example.

  9. When I was in Norway a few years ago, I had whale. It is a red meat and stronger tasting, like venison, and it has distinct marine flavors. Not bad tasting but more of an experience than a meal.

  10. Is it just me, or do the photos of whale meat linked to here look might lean? …you know, for whale meat.

    Northern Norway has some pretty short days towards the end of the year. They probably trimmed the blubber off and saved it to melt down into candles.


  11. A simple solution would be to “brand” the whales with transponders of some kind and turn them into property. It would be like the open range period of the American West. People who liked whale meat could harvest from their privately owned pods and those that wanted to protect whales could purchase whales to conserve. Anybody killing a whale they didn’t own would be pirate and easily and universally prosecutable.

    I doubt that the general environmentalist crowd will go for it. Like most environmental issues, the question here isn’t the most effective means of “saving” the whales but rather how to use the plight of whales in the ongoing socio-political morality plays of the developed world.

    Having large populations of inviolate whales roaming the oceans would be a fund-rasing disaster for them.

  12. Keith,

    The animal has to have cloven hooves as well as being a ruminant. So even if whales could be considered ruminants they would not be kosher.

  13. My parents ate whale meat during WWII when beef was in short supply due to the war effort. It could be found in grocery stores across America. They remember it as being very lean and not fishy in flavor, although the passage of so many years dims the memory of its precise flavor. It wasn’t really like any other meat they had eaten, but if forced to choose they would compare it to beef.

    Kosher: I’m not qualified to discuss what is and is not kosher, but may I offer a bit of paleontology just for fun?

    “Some researchers use morphology…to suggest that whales are descended from mesonychians, an extinct group of meat-eating animals that resembled hyenas with hooves. Others use DNA, molecular, and genetic techniques to suggest that whales and hippos are more closely related to one another than either of them is to any other species.

    “The fossils found in Pakistan last year add weight to the second theory: that whales descended from the group of animals known as artiodactyls, whose members include sheep, cows, pigs, camels, deer, and hippos. Artiodactyla (Greek artios, entire or even numbered, and dactylos, finger or toe) are named for the even number of fingers and toes (two or four) found on each hand and foot.”

  14. Absolutely the best culinary advice ever on eating whale (sorry, no URL):

    Whale-meat aficionados offer pot of recipes to Makah

    Tuesday, May 18, 1999


    If the leaders of the Makah keep their word, the 1,600 members of their tribe will soon be eating tons of whale meat and blubber.

    The problem the tribe now faces is how to cook the gray whale it killed yesterday. Most everyone involved in preparing the last whale the Makah killed, 70 years ago, is gone.

    “It’s easy and you’re only limited by imagination,” said Maggie Ahmaogak, the executive director of the Alaska Eskimo Whaling Commission.

    “You can boil whale, stew it, roast it, grill it, pickle it, make a soup of it and even serve it frozen. The taste of whale changes depending on how you cook it.”

    Eleven cooks interviewed last fall in Alaska, Japan and Norway suggest the Makah remember two things: Don’t expect whale to taste like chicken and the more spices used, the better. It tastes, they say, like a cross between shrimp and crab.

    A whale the size of the gray the Makah killed yesterday, estimated to be as least as long as the tribe’s 32-foot cedar canoe, can feed most of their tribe for a while, said sea mammal experts at the University of Alaska. But tribal leaders admit many Makah may not be eager to eat whale.

    “Of course they’re going to eat it. Why else would anyone catch a whale?” Charlie Johnson, executive director of Alaska Nanuuq Commission said in a recent interview.

    “I wish the Makah luck. Once they get back to eating whales they’ll be much healthier. Whales are far more nutritious than land animals. After a while, the kids will prefer it over burgers, Twinkies and junk food.”

    Paul Watson of the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society said gray whales taste terrible because they are bottom feeders. Which prompts some to question how the anti-whaling activist knows how whale tastes.

    Nevertheless, experts disagree with his review. “Gray whales are the most delicious of all,” said Johnson. “It’s a very rich meat, slightly oily, but finely textured like veal, or a little like lamb. And the female is tastier than the male.”

    How to cook whale depends pretty much on personal or geographic tastes, but, as one Eskimo cook said: “The days of just boiling the hell of the whale are gone.”

    Some Japanese serve whale raw, or pickled or fried in a light tempura batter with Wasabi sauce, made from green horseradish.

    Several Norwegian recipes call for marinating whale meat in red wine, cloves and sour cream.

    Among the Eskimos, anything goes, culinarily speaking.

    “Tabasco sauce is the secret. The real good, old stuff from Louisiana. We fly cases of it in here,” said Hunter Michelbrink, an extension service agent in Barrow, Alaska. The village of 5,000 far above the Arctic Circle catches and eats 22 whales a year, usually beluga and bowheads.

    “Pickled is my favorite way of cooking it,” said Lilly Leavitt, the 27-year-old daughter of a Barrow whaling captain. “You boil it for a little while and leave it over night or for a few days in vinegar, sugar and some spices. It’s really wonderful.”

    Flora Brower’s husband killed a 42-foot bowhead last fall. Her preferred method to cook muktuk, pieces of thick skin and blubber, is to cut it into small cubes, boil it with hot chilies and other spices and serve with a strong mustard.

    Pan-frying two-inch-thick steaks is also great, said Rebbi Maakiki.

    “Brown lots of garlic, peppers and onions cut in large pieces. Sear the meat in a very hot pan, about four-minutes on a side and you’ve got heaven in a pan,” she said.

    Also popular, said Ahmaogak, is a form of whale Popsicle.

    “A thin piece of frozen meat dipped in rendered blubber oil. It is a real treat,” she said.

    If none of these ideas interest the Makah, the files of the U.S. Department of the Interior contain recipes for stuffed whale roast, fillet of whale with mushrooms, whale pot roast and several other selections.

    The Makah have released few details on exactly how they will butcher and distribute the whale meat. In Alaska, the Eskimos usually follow tradition that goes back decades.

    On the day of the catch, after the butchering, the captain’s wife must cook for the whole town.

    The captain of the whaling boat gets the first choice of cuts. It’s usually two- or three-foot-wide pieces out of the center of the whale. It’s called the captain’s belt, the most tender meat of the whale.

    The back third of the whale is placed in storage or ice cellars to be cooked and served to villagers on Thanksgiving and Christmas. The front third is divided up among the crews of other boats who helped with the daunting task of towing the whale in and butchering it.

    The whaling commission boss, Ahmaogak, has some words of caution for the Makah.

    “They may have forgotten a lot about cooking whale but they must remember that if they’re going to butcher the whale on a beach, and not on the ice like we do, they had better watch for rocks and shells in the meat or they can crack lots of teeth.

    “And, of course, make sure you clean the intestines really, really well and cook them for a very long time.”

    P-I senior national correspondent Andrew Schneider is a member of the International Association of Culinary Professionals and can be reached at 206-448-8218 or at

  15. I came across your web site while searching for a recipe for beluga whale.
    I live in Alaska and work in some of its more remote locations. working in these areas has given me a chance to experience some unique meals. These are just one guys opinion so take them for what there worth.
    Muktuk, is a unique sensation all in its own. soft yet chewy. I had it served as a slab about 12 inches by 12 inches and 2 inches thick. cut off one bite at a time and lightly salted or dipped in soy sauce, not to bad. mild fish flavor.
    Beluga fin, now thats another story. A friend of mine let me try a bite of a fin from a beluga he harvested back in July. the longer I chewed the bigger it seemed to get. stronger fish flavor then the muktuk I tried but what can you expect. the fine was prepared by reaching down and slicing the tip off. no cooking just dipped in water to rince the sand off.
    I have a couple pounds of Beluga meat in the freezer. not quite sure how i’m going to fix it up. I’m leaning towards having a BBQ, but I found a receipe for frying it with a mushroom sauce. guess it just depends on if it was air dried prior to freezing.
    I’ll let you know how it turns out if your interested.

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