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Lord Ashcroft KCMG PC is a businessman, philanthropist, author and pollster. For information on Lord Ashcroft’s work, visit www.lordashcroft.com.  For his work on wildlife, visit www.lordashcroftwildlife.com.

Today marks the start of the whaling season in Norway, one of the world’s richest countries and often championed for its political correctness.

And yet again this oil and gas rich nation will ignore its growing number of critics worldwide to hunt and kill hundreds of minke whales off its picturesque coastline.

But does ‘woke’ Norway really need to continue this slaughter in the twenty-first century? I truly believe that it is time for this barbaric practice to stop once and for all.

In recent weeks, Norway’s fleet of whalers, many based in the Lofoten Islands in the north of the country, have been preparing for the new season, including loading their deadly exploding harpoons on board, along with their wooden meat-cooling pallets used to store their catch.

Today, some of these ships are already at sea , where they will again defy a moratorium on commercial whaling imposed by the International Whaling Commission (IWC) in 1986 and aimed at protecting dwindling stocks of the mammal.

Norway, an IWC member, resumed whaling in 1993 – under an “objection” to the 1986 moratorium – initially insisting, somewhat dishonestly, that it was for scientific reasons, but later admitting its motives were commercial. Now, every year, Norway announces a self-imposed quota, which for 2021 will be nearly 1,300 minke whales.

Alarmingly, despite a decline in the demand for whale meat from Norwegians, its Government is determined that the practice of whale hunting should not only continue but be expanded. Schools have even been encouraged to offer “whale burgers” on their menus.

Most people living in Britain believe that Japan kills more whales that any other nation. Yet the reality in recent years is that Norway has often killed more whales than Japan and Iceland combined.

The method of hunting used is to shoot the whales with powerful harpoons that explode when they are less than a metre into the whale’s body. The huge mammals are then hauled on to the whaling ship using a wire attached to the harpoon. The whales are usually still alive when they are winched back on to the whaling ship, often put out of their misery by a rifle bullet to the head.

Defenders of the practice point out that commercial whaling is around a thousand years old. They say Norway, long a seafaring nation due to its long, narrow coastline, is entitled to hunt minke whales, which are not an endangered species.

Opponents of whaling, including World Animal Protection (previously the World Society for the Protection of Animals), have obtained footage that showed a minke whale being harpooned and “winged” off northern Norway – and then apparently taking several hours to die

Conservationists say that minke whale numbers off Norway are declining significantly – to below 100,000 – and that some of the country’s whale meat has dangerously high levels of mercury.

I believe that a nation as prosperous as Norway can and should stop commercial whaling, and thereby end the apparent pain and trauma that the mammals suffer when they are harpooned.

It is expected that ten whaling ships, based at four different ports, will hunt minke whales this year. Each minke whale is up to ten metres in length and can weigh up to nine tonnes. Each whale caught is typically worth around £7,000 to the hunter.

I have been fortunate over the decades, as I have travelled the world visiting some 150 countries, to see hundreds of whales in their natural environment. Is there a more magnificent and powerful sight in nature than an adult whale breaching?

Whales are intelligent, warm-blooded, majestic creatures that give birth to live young, and each whale plays a key role within its family structure and its pod. Instinctively loyal to other whales, they deserve our protection.

I certainly think it is impossible for a country as wealthy as Norway to justify the mass slaughter of hundreds of minke whales every year. And I don’t buy into their “it’s part of our tradition” argument.

Slavery used to be part of the British ‘tradition’ until we realised that it was wrong on every level. So Britain abolished slavery in 1833, thereby freeing some 800,000 Africans from servitude.

Tradition, in terms of passing on good customs from one generation to another, should be applauded. Tradition, if used as an excuse for perpetuating wrong-doing, should be deplored.

In Norwegian schools, it is time to halt the supply of whale burgers and replace it with lessons in the value of conserving minke whales.

Norwegians, young and old alike, should accept that commercial whaling is cruel, out-dated and unnecessary – and must be stopped.