The Ambassador to the Norwegian Government in Exile ( Biddle ) to the Secretary of State

No. 60

Sir: Referring to the Department’s telegram No. 20 July 30, 2 p.m. and to my reply No. 9 August 17, 1 p.m.13 on the subject of a possible Whaling Conference, I have the honor to enclose a copy [Page 1132] of an informal and confidential memorandum14 prepared by Professor Birger Bergersen regarding such a Conference. The memorandum deals primarily with possible modifications of the Whaling Agreement of June 8, 1937 and the Protocol of June 24, 1938 in the immediate post-war years.

In a conversation with Mr. R. E. Schoenfeld, Counselor of this Mission, Professor Bergersen said that the Norwegians would like an early Conference. They would be prepared for a meeting as soon as they should receive word from the United States. The Norwegians would particularly like to avoid delays which would risk bringing the matter into the pressures of the end-of-the-war period.

According to Professor Bergersen, the British Foreign Office feels that a meeting restricted to those countries engaged in pelagic whaling could properly be held. This would mean the United States, Great Britain and Norway. The other signatories of the Whaling Convention only engage in shore-based whaling. The implication therefore was that because of the differences between pelagic and shore-based whaling, the meeting might properly be restricted to the countries engaged in the former.

Professor Bergersen went on to say that the Norwegians now felt reassured with regard to possible plans of Swedish companies to construct factory ships with a view to engaging in whaling, as they now believed that the Swedes could not build any such ships for some years. The present summer was the danger period and no construction of such ships had been started. He had personally been in Sweden recently and had talked with the Swedish interests in question. A definite reply from the Swedes had not been received but the Norwegians felt practically sure that the danger was now past.

Professor Bergersen referred to the fact that there was not at present a sufficient number of factory ships to take the catch permitted under the Agreement. There was some question of sending out three expeditions in the coming year. Each one would normally take 100,000 barrels of whale oil, or 300,000 barrels for all three.

He hoped that the United States or the British or both would help Norway to obtain two or three new factory ships for use immediately after the war. He suggested the possibility of permitting the construction during the war of four or six tankers susceptible of later conversion. The British, he said, were not in a position to construct such ships. At the present time there was only one free slip and this was too small to permit of the construction of a ship of a suitable size. A factory ship, he said, should be at least 20,000–22,000 tons. He understood, moreover, that the British had an understanding with [Page 1133] the United States that they would devote their yards to the construction of warships. He therefore hoped particularly that the United States would help the Norwegians. Unless the Norwegians could look forward to obtaining two or three such ships, they saw little direct advantage to themselves in the possible widening of whaling opportunities for the immediate post-war years. This, however, did not prevent them from favoring an early meeting.

In his memorandum, Professor Bergersen classifies the essential points which might be discussed at the suggested meeting under six headings, i.e.

Extension of the whaling season;
Fullest possible utilisation of whales taken;
Size limit for sperm whale;
Protection of humpback whales;
Limitation of the catch.

Commenting orally on his memorandum, Professor Bergersen said that Mr. Dobson, Under-Secretary of Agriculture and Director of Fisheries in the British Government, agreed with him that an early conference would be desirable.

With regard to possible modifications in practices under the International Agreement of June 8, 1937 and the Protocol of June 24, 1938, Professor Bergersen said that he had been rather vague in his memorandum as to the period over which such modifications should be in force. He had suggested that the modifications should only be in force for “the first whaling seasons” after the war. The British commercial interests, he understood, wanted the modifications to extend over a relatively long period. He personally was opposed to this.

With regard to Point 1, Professor Bergersen said that he objected to the idea of extending the three months’ period now fixed to seven months as certain British whaling interests desired. He felt that the period could be extended advantageously for a month but no longer. He intimated that the interested British officials were inclined to take this point of view but that Mr. Salvesen, the principal figure in the British whale oil industry, took the other view. He intimated that if, as he thought they would, the United States and the Norwegians supported the shorter period, this would be welcome to the British officials since it would ease the problem of withstanding the pressure of the commercial interests.

With regard to Point 3, Professor Bergersen indicated that he considered the proposal for the withdrawing of certain sanctuaries as wrong. He said that the principal reason for possible amendments was that the whalers, after finishing the season in the Antarctic, [Page 1134] wished to proceed to the west coast of Australia for whaling there in the same season. That area was known to be a calving ground for a limited stock of humpback whales which would be exterminated if the present limitations were removed. On this point he thought that Mr. Dobson and Professor Mackintosh15 agreed with him and “would like not to yield”.

With regard to Point 4, Professor Bergersen said that the desire to reduce the size limit for sperm whales also emanated from the oil interests, more particularly Mr. Salvesen. He said that the idea behind it was that if the size limit were lowered this would enable the whalers to catch the females. He was opposed to this and he believed that Mr. Dobson also wished no change.

With regard to Point 6, Professor Bergersen said that the vital part of his memorandum was embodied in that section. He referred therein to the fact that it might be proposed that the total permissible catch of baleen whales should be fixed at 20,000 animals annually, and said that this was a very good proposal provided that it was formulated in such a way that the blue whale could be sufficiently protected. To achieve this he suggested limiting the catch to approximately 15–16,000 blue whale units. The blue whale unit being equivalent to approximately 100 barrels, such a catch would total 1,500,000–1,600,000 barrels or more than half of the oil production in the Antarctic in 1938/39, which was 2,820,771 barrels.

In explaining this proposal orally, Professor Bergersen pointed out that the unit would be established on the following basis:

  • 1 blue whale equals 2 fin whales or
  • 2½ humpback whales or
  • 6 sey whales.

The yield of oil of the individual blue whale would in fact be slightly less than the equivalents given above. Thus, if the catch that whalers were permitted to take were expressed in units and not in animals and if whalers were allowed to catch the alternative number of other whales, the inducement to take all blue whales would be removed, since the alternative catches would yield an equal or even slightly higher amount of oil.

If this system could be established, Professor Bergersen said, this would enable the interested powers to present the changes not as a weakening of the rules established by international conventions, a charge that the lengthening of the whaling season might alone give rise to, but as measures reinforcing the intent of those international agreements which aimed at the conservation of the stock of whales. [Page 1135] Thus the interested powers could present the changes as in agreement with the intent of those conventions.

Professor Bergersen stated that he believed the British authorities would be willing to support this proposal for the limitation of the catch, though they had never been willing to do so before.

In conclusion, Professor Bergersen mentions in his memorandum that it was obvious that with the whaling tonnage that was likely to be available at the end of the war, 1,500,000–1,600,000 barrels could not be obtained during the first seasons after the cessation of hostilities in Europe. He believed that the commercial interests would probably therefore not interfere, and that sound principles of regulation of international whaling in the future could be introduced at once. He therefore thought that it would be a good thing to have a Conference.

It has not been possible to discuss the question of a meeting with Mr. Trygve Lie, Norwegian Foreign Minister, since he is away on vacation for a fortnight, but Mr. J. G. Raeder16 is of the opinion that Mr. Lie would be in agreement concerning the desirability of an early meeting.

Respectfully yours,

A. J. Drexel Biddle, Jr.
  1. Latter not printed.
  2. Not printed.
  3. British whale expert.
  4. Commercial Counselor of the Norwegian Embassy in the United Kingdom.