Endangered species

Iceland suspends annual whale hunt

Written by Oceanographic Staff & AFP
Photographs by Davide Cantelli and Ferdinand Stohr

On Tuesday, Iceland’s government announced the suspension of its annual fin whale hunt until 31 August. Experts believe that this might signal the end of the controversial practice. The minister of food, agriculture and fisheris, Svandis Svavarsdottir, said in a statement: “I have decided to suspend all whaling operations.”

Preceding this news, a government-commissioned animal welfare monitoring report on the fin whale hunt, conducted by Iceland’s Food and Veterinary Authority, concluded that the killing of the whales took too long and didn’t meet the objectives of the Animal Welfare Act. In its report, the body broadcast shocking videos that showed a whale’s agony as it was hunted for five hours.

Svavarsdottir added: “If the government and licensees cannot guarantee welfare requirements, these activities do not have a future.” Additionally, the Icelandic government announced that it would seek the opinions of experts and whale-hunting licence holders to explore further limitations on whaling in the future.

After the 1986 moratorium on whaling, Iceland resumed the hunting of fin whales in 2006 and has done so every year since then, alongside Norway and Japan, the few countries that still allow commercial whaling. Currently, Iceland only has one operating whaling company left and its hunting license will expire in 2023. Another whaling company had to stop operating in 2020 due to whaling no longer being profitable.

While Iceland’s whaling season runs from mid-June to mid-September, the suspension until 31 August likely means that this year’s whaling season has ended in Iceland.

Quotas currently allow Iceland to hunt 209 fin whales, as well as 217 minke whales annually. However, catches have fallen drastically in recent years as the market for whale meat is dwindling, while criticism about the practice has become louder – also in Iceland itself. While the country has depended on fishing and whaling for centuries, a survey published in June found that 51% of Icelanders now oppose whaling.

Iceland’s decision to halt whaling has been hailed by animal rights groups and conservationists alike. The Humane Society International called it “a major milestone in compassionate whale conservation”. Ruud Tombrock, the Humane Society International’s executive director for Europe, said in a statement to AFP: “There is no humane way to kill a whale at sea, and so we urge the minister to make this a permanent ban.”

He continued: “Whales already face so many serious threats in the oceans from pollution, climate change, entanglement in fish nets and ship strikes, that ending cruel commercial whaling is the only ethical conclusion.”

Robert Read, head of Sea Shepherd UK, said the decision was also “a huge blow” to other whaling nations: “If whaling can’t be done humanely here … it can’t be done humanely anywhere.”

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Written by Oceanographic Staff & AFP
Photographs by Davide Cantelli and Ferdinand Stohr

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