Eating whale in Greenland

Don’t hate me but I ate whale meat. More than once and from more than one species (cringe).

I didn’t do it for the sake of boasting–I’ve eaten whale before in other countries. I did it because when you get invited over for dinner at somebody’s house in Greenland and they serve you whale, you just eat it and smile and say, “Qujanaq”(thank you).

As a guest in Greenland, I was first served a tender whale steak smothered in caramelized onions, and honestly-it was good. I still felt uneasy about eating it, though–I was indoctrinated by the Save the Whales campaigns of the 1980s and still believe that commercial whaling is fundamentally unnecessary.

Perhaps more disturbing was seeing humpback whale on a plate, which I also tasted and felt guilty about. Hunting humpbacks is banned by the International Whaling Commission (IWC), and the species is still listed as endangered under the United States’ Endangered Species Act. However, the IWC does include an “aboriginal subsistence whaling” clause that recognizes tradition and allows indigenous hunting communities to take enough for their own consumption, as long as its done “sustainably”, meaning within the limits of internationally-recognized quotas.

The Inuit of Greenland have been whaling for a few thousand years and that won’t change any time soon. While visiting the southern town of Qaqortoq, a minke whale was hunted and butchered right down in the harbor. What followed was an odd blend of ancient tradition and 21st century technology: cell phones buzzed around town to spread the news, and all the old folks gathered around to chat and linger. It was a big event–whole families walked in to look over the meat, people brought their own bags and carefully picked out the morsel they wanted. For a few minutes, I was able to suspend judgment and just witness the way life is lived in Greenland.And life in Greenland includes eating whale. Not all the time-whale meat is rare and not eaten everyday. Also, whale isn’t cheap. In the supermarket, a pound of narwhal costs around $40. Smoked salmon is far more abundant and much cheaper, as is musk ox and reindeer (also tasty). But whale is the delicacy people love and the way Greenlanders talk about it is not unlike Americans raving about KFC-it’s oh so wrong, but it just tastes so good.

At some point, all travelers have to find that balance between personal beliefs (“But I’m a vegetarian!”) and simple respect towards the place they are visiting. For me, that meant eating tiny chunks of whale blubber as an appetizer at a cocktail party in Narsarsuaq.%Gallery-103128%