Endangered species

Japan and Iceland resume fin whale hunts

Despite a record low demand for whale meat, Japan and Iceland approved fin whale hunts in this year's hunting season.

12/06/2024
Written by Oceanographic Staff
Photograph by NOAA/NMFS
Audio recording by NOAA PMEL Acoustics Program

Listen to the sound of fin whales in the Atlantic. The 20-Hz signals are short (< 1s) pulses that downsweep from about 23 Hz to 18 Hz. These pulses typically are produced in groups, or ’bouts’. Pulse duration, frequency and bout length can vary with location.

 

Yesterday, Japan and Iceland decided to allow each country’s last remaining whale companies to hunt fin whales, the second largest animal on the planet.

Adopting the recommendations of a pro-whaling committee, Japan’s Fisheries Agency announced that it will allow Kyodo Senpaku of Tokyo to kill as many as 59 fin whales this year in the North Pacific, in addition to its existing annual quota of 25 sei whales, 150 Bryde’s whales, and 142 minke whales.

“The decision to allow the killing of fin whales is a welfare and conservation disaster, with serious diplomatic and legal implications for Japan,” said Sue Fisher, senior policy advisor for the Marine Wildlife Program at the Animal Welfare Institute (AWI). “It perpetuates a vicious economic cycle that Japan needs to break: Kyodo Senpaku can’t sell the whale meat it already has. Nevertheless, the company keeps asking the government for higher quotas and more financial support in hopes that miraculously rebounding meat sales will offset its mounting debts.”

In Iceland, Bjarkey Olsen Gunnarsdótti, the Minister of Food, Agriculture and Fisheries, issued a commercial whaling permit to Hvalur hf whaling company to kill up to 128 fin whales.

Hvalur hf. killed 148 fin whales in 2022 and 24 fin whales, including a pregnant female, last year. The company’s whaling arm has operated at a loss for years given the lack of demand for whale products both domestically and in Japan, where 2,000 tons of unsold Icelandic fin whale meat continue to languish in freezer storage.

Danny Groves, from WDC (Whale and Dolphin Conservation), commented: “It is unbelievable and deeply disappointing that the Icelandic government has granted a one-year licence to hunt 128 fin whales, defying extensive scientific and economic evidence against such actions. This decision undermines global conservation efforts and disregards our marine ecosystems’ sustainable future. By allowing the hunting of these whales, which are already vulnerable to extinction, Iceland has set a dangerous precedent that could have far-reaching repercussions for commercial whaling globally.”

The news comes after Iceland suspended its annual whale hunt in 2023 due to animal welfare concerns after 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. Back then, the minister of food, agriculture and fisheris, Svandis Svavarsdottir, said in a statement: “If the government and licensees cannot guarantee welfare requirements, these activities do not have a future.”

Japan’s hunt will now be conducted by the Kangei Maru, Kyodo Senpaku’s new 7.5 billion yen ($47 million) factory ship. Kyodo Senpaku relied on government loans to finance the ship, and will repay them over the next 20 years.

“Kyodo Senpaku now faces a financial time bomb of ongoing storage costs for its massive glut of whale meat,” Fisher said, “along with public and private loan repayments associated with purchasing whale meat from Iceland (approximately 3 billion yen) and building the new mothership (7.5 billion yen). Slaughtering fin whales now makes no financial sense. The Japanese government failed to act responsibly and the whales will pay the price.”

Both Japan’s and Iceland’s whaling quotas are not approved by the International Whaling Commission, the global organization responsible for the conservation of whales and management of whaling.

 

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Written by Oceanographic Staff
Photograph by NOAA/NMFS
Audio recording by NOAA PMEL Acoustics Program

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