Management by Totemization: Whale Symbolism and the Anti-Whaling Campaign


  • Arne Kalland



Anti-harvesting, Economic conditions, Environmental protection, Public opinion, Sustainable economic development, Whales, Whaling, Wildlife management, Norway


The anti-whaling campaign has been with us for about two decades by now, and - not surprisingly - the arguments against whaling have changed during these years. The ecological argument that the whales are endangered is losing ground as it becomes clear that the stocks of some species of whales can sustain regulated harvest. Therefore, during the last few years more and more people have argued whaling on moral and ethical grounds. Whales have come to hold a special place in the animal kingdom. Three related themes are addressed in this paper. First, the process by which whales are turned into a symbol is analyzed. By combining characteristics found in a number of different whale species, a picture of a "super-whale" has emerged. Second, it is argued that whales have such potential as symbols because 1) whales are anomalous animals difficult to categorize, 2) they live in salt water, which symbolizes the ultimate purity, 3) they have a long history, and 4) they have qualities that we would like to see in our fellow human beings. It is argued that whales are turned into totems, thus dichotomizing mankind into "good guys" (protectors of whales) or "bad guys" (whalers). Finally, it is shown that by turning whales into totems and imposing an indefinite moratorium on whaling, the resource base of communities in northern Norway has been narrowed significantly, which has serious implications for the viability of these communities.

Key words: whales, whaling, management, protectionism, symbolism, totem, rhetoric, impact, northern Norway