European whaling began in the 11th century when the Basques, the people living in the area of northern Spain and southern France at the time, began hunting the North Atlantic right whale. It was hunted almost to extinction and is endangered as of 2014.

The Basques hunted the North Atlantic right whales, which they called "sardako," in the fall when they migrated south from the Norwegian Sea into the Bay of Biscay. In the 1400s, the Basques were sailing north, near Greenland and Iceland, in search of more whales to hunt. By the 1500s, Basque whalers joined hundreds of Europeans hunting whales in the Strait of Belle isle, located off the shore of Newfoundland and Labrador. In 1946, the International Whaling Convention indefinitely banned the killing of whales, though there are a few exceptions. Some countries, specifically Japan and Norway, have not honored the ban, and whaling continues as of 2014.