Iceland bans whaling after a report cited unnecessary suffering

Iceland bans whaling after a report cited unnecessary suffering

Whalers in Iceland in 2009.Photo by Halldor Kolbeins/AFP

Permit holders in Iceland are given an annual quota by the government for the number of fin and minke whales that may be killed. The annual hunting season was supposed to start on Wednesday, but that has been pushed back to August 31. There’s a good chance the hunt won’t take place at all this year, because the season usually ends in mid-September.

The Icelandic Animal Welfare Authority Mast conducted an investigation into last summer’s whaling and concluded that many animals had suffered for an unnecessarily long period. Of the 148 whales caught, 36 were found to have been shot more than once before they died. A whale with a harpoon in its body was chased for five hours to no avail. In another case, it took two hours for the whale to die. On average, it took more than eleven minutes for a whale to die.

About the author
Jeroen Visser is the Scandinavia and Finland correspondent De Volkskrant. Lives in Stockholm. Previously, he was the Southeast Asia Correspondent. He is the author of the book North Korea never says sorry.

Mast concluded that while poachers did not break the law, he called the practice “unacceptable and not in the spirit of the law.” According to the authority, the law must be reviewed. Then the government sought help from a group of experts, who announced on Monday that they were sharing the findings. The government says it wants time now to review whaling. “We cannot continue with this as long as the authorities and permit holders cannot guarantee that the welfare requirements are met,” said Fisheries Minister Svandís Svavarsdóttir.

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Permanent ban on whaling

With the decision, the minister appears to be preparing a permanent ban on whaling. Last year, Svavarsdottir already wrote in an opinion piece in an Icelandic newspaper that she doubts whether to extend the permit, which expires this year, because the economic benefit is limited. A few large whales had been caught in previous years. In addition, demand for Icelandic whale meat from big-consumer Japan has fallen sharply since the same country allowed hunting again in 2019. One Icelandic license holder gave up in 2020 because hunting was no longer profitable. The family business, Havalur, is the only permit holder left.

Another factor is that whaling conflicts with tourism, which is becoming increasingly important for Iceland. Whale watching is one of the biggest tourist attractions on the island. Tour operators have previously complained that they have to sail further because whales have become shyer from hunting. The enthusiasm among Icelanders is also declining. In a poll conducted earlier this month, 51 percent of respondents said they were against stalking. 29 percent were in favor, including a fairly large number of those over 60.

Whale hunters in Iceland spray water on a captive whale in 2022. Image Sergei Gapon/Getty

Whalers in Iceland spray water on a captive whale, in 2022.Image by Sergey Gapon/Getty

Minister Svavarsdottir also referred to the controversial nature of whaling in her opinion piece. Since 1986, there has been an international ban on commercial whaling, announced by the International Whaling Commission (IWC), under pressure from animal rights groups. Iceland reluctantly agreed at the time, but left the IWC in 1992 when it refused to allow the quota system. The country rejoined in 2002, but with a very controversial warning against the ban extending indefinitely.

endangered species

In 2006, Iceland resumed commercial fishing and export, despite protests and even economic sanctions from the United States. This has drawn a lot of criticism from the government in Reykjavík, especially since Icelandic whalers are hunting the fin whale. This species, the second largest animal on earth after the blue whale, was declared an endangered species in 2008. Just last Friday, a major rescue operation off the coast of the island was manipulated to rescue a whale caught in a fishing net. This has led to unease with the current left-wing government headed by Green Prime Minister Katrin Jacobsdottir. She, too, once hinted at an eventual end to whaling.

Animal rights group Humane Society International calls the Icelandic government’s decision a “major milestone”. “There is no humane way to kill a whale at sea, so we encourage the minister to make the ban permanent,” said director Rod Tombrock. “Whales are already threatened by pollution, climate change, fishing nets and boats that could crash into them. Ending commercial whaling is the only right ethical decision.

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