In the Lofoten Islands, the main base for Norway's whaling industry, whalers adamantly defend the harshly criticised practice and reject claims that consumers are not buying whale meat.
In this cluster of islands nestled above the Arctic circle, the hunting season is over for this year. The whalers have all returned to their home ports, their vessels easily identified by the harpoons perched on the bow and an imposing watchtower that enables them to spot minke whales from afar.
The quota was hard to fulfill again this year, with whalers killing only half of the allowed catch of 1,052 whales. Since Norway resumed whaling in 1993, seven years after an international moratorium came into force, the hunters have only met their quota once.
They blame the low catch on the high fuel price, bad weather -- still waters are needed to harpoon a whale -- as well as quotas often distributed in regions far out to sea and a crunch in processing and distribution channels.
Greenpeace sees the issue differently.
"The figures speak for themselves: the market for whale meat is non-existent," says Truls Gulowsen of the environmental group's Norwegian branch.
Greenpeace long ago abandoned its spectacular anti-whaling campaigns where its boats went head to head in confrontations with whaling vessels.
"We have a better plan: we'll let the market decide. And it will die out," Gulowsen says.
Once a staple of the poor man's diet, whale meat is now almost never found in grocery stores.
But in Svolvaer, a small village in the Lofoten Islands, it has pride of place on restaurant menus where it is served both fried and as carpaccio, often a pleasant surprise for tourists' sceptical palates.
"Our problem is ignorance. A lot of people just don't understand what it is they're opposed to," says Leif Einar Karlsen, a local whaler who left his job as a mechanic 12 years ago to start hunting.
"People don't know that there are dozens of kinds of whales," he adds.
Stocks of minke whale, the smallest of the big whales, number more than 100,000 in the North Atlantic.
Norway, together with Iceland the only countries to authorise commercial whaling, estimates that the stocks are abundant enough to allow a limited quota.
But the minke whale remains on the list of near-threatened species drawn up by UN agency CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species), which means it cannot be sold internationally.
"The result of unfortunate and effective lobbying," laments Bjoern Hugo Bendiksen, head of the Norwegian whalers' association.
The son, grandson and brother of a whaler, he harpooned 23 minkes this year.
"A mediocre season," he says.
While one minke whale can yield more than a tonne of meat, the processing plants on the nearby islet of Skrova pay only 30 kroner (3.8 euros, 5.5 dollars) per kilo.
Half of a season's revenue will cover the costs of the boat, while the crew, normally made up of four people, shares the rest.
"Before, whaling used to be a primary source of income. Now it's just a way for fishermen to supplement their income alongside the cod, hake and herring they catch the rest of the year," Karlsen said.
Whaling represents only 20 to 25 percent of overall income nowadays for most of the 30-odd whaling vessels that take part in the hunt in Norway each year.
In that light, whale safaris have become a more profitable business, with lower costs and less conflict. Usually.
"Once a whaler harpooned a whale right in front of us. My passengers, who were German tourists, were horrified. I almost had a heart attack," says Heiki Vester who runs the Ocean Sounds whale safari company.
Greenpeace's Gulowsen insists that "whaling is an industry of the past."
Source: AFP Global Edition