Professor Walløe and marine mammal research


Professor Walløe became the Norwegian government's main scientific adviser on issues related to marine mammals as a result of three developments during the 1980s.

In 1986-1987, there were huge invasions of harp seals along the coast of Finnmark, Norway's northernmost county. More than 60 000 animals became entangled and died in fishing gear, with serious economic consequences for the population along the coast, but nobody could explain why this occurred.

In 1986, the International Whaling Commission decided to classify the minke whales in Norwegian waters as a "protection stock", with the result that Norwegian minke whaling was discontinued after the 1987 season.

And finally, in 1988 a major international controversy developed about the methods used by Norwegian sealers. Even the King of Sweden was drawn into the debate. As a result, the Norwegian government appointed a commission of inquiry to look into the matter.

These events revealed serious gaps in our knowledge, and in 1988 the Norwegian Council for Fishery Research appointed a planning group chaired by Professor Walløe to establish a Norwegian marine mammal research programme. The programme had an overall budget of more than NOK 100 million, and ran from 1989 to 1994. Professor Walløe was also chairman of its steering committee.

The scientific results of the programme were collected in the book Whales, seals, fish and man and in more popular form in a book in Norwegian entitled Sjøpattedyr - om hval og sel i norske farvann (Marine mammals - whales and seals in Norwegian waters).

The results of the research programme persuaded the Scientific Committee of the International Whaling Commission, where Professor Walløe has been a member and head of the Norwegian delegation since 1989, to accept Norway's estimates of stock size. As a result, Norwegian minke whaling was resumed in 1993. During the period when Professor Walløe has been involved in marine mammal research, we have developed a far better insight into the role of marine mammals in the ecosystem and thus been able to improve fisheries management.

Professor Arnoldus Schytte Blix,
Department of Arctic Biology,
University of Tromsø