Iceland Whaling

UPDATE: As of May 30th, 7 minke whales have been killed during the annual Icelandic whale hunt


QUICK FACTS:

Country: Iceland

Ocean: North Atlantic

Target Species and (quota): Fin Whales (180) and minke whales (unknown)

Whaling Season: June - September

Whaling Company: Hvalur 

Number of Boats: 2

Total Number of Whales by Icelandic Whalers Killed Since 1986: 821

In Brief:  Iceland's whaling industry relies on two main markets: exports to Japan and tourism.  The main whaling company, Hvalur, exports the majority of its whale products to Japan, with another 40% being consumed by visitors to Iceland.  The catastropic Japan earthquake in 2011 resulted in a decrease demand in Japan for whale meat, thus suspending Iceland's whaling operations for the 2011 and 2012 seasons.  In May 2013, after a two year hiatus, Iceland announced its intentions to resume whaling. The 2013 season concluded with the slaughter of a reported 134 fin whales and 38 minke whales.

BACKGROUND

As of June 24, 2013, a total of 11 fin whales and countless minke whales have been killed and landed by Iceland's whaling fleet

In May, the Icelandic whaling company Hvalur announced that it would be resuming its annual summer whale hunt, which runs June through September.  Iceland suspended its commercial whaling operations in 2011 and 2012, due largely to the decreased demand for whale meat in Japan.  Yet as Japan’s economy recovers from the crippling 2011 earthquake, Iceland once again seeks to capitalize on the Japanese whale meat market. 

Hvalur, owned by Icelandic millionaire Kristjan Loftsson, has set a self quota of 184 fin whales for the season, in addition to an undetermined number of minke whales.  Hvalur’s two whaling ships left Reykjavik harbor last night (June 16th), bound for the northwest Atlantic and in search of fin whales.  To date, the Icelandic shore-based fleet has killed seven minke whales. 

Fin whales, second in size only to the blue whale, are listed as an endangered species, with the majority of fin whale meat processed onshore and shipped to Japan.  Although minke whale populations are considered stable, the demise of larger whales has increasingly shifted the commercial whaling focus towards the more diminutive species. 

Although the International Whaling Commission imposed an international moratorium on commercial whaling in 1986, the Icelandic government issued licenses for the recommencement of a commercial whale hunt beginning October 2006.  Since then, Iceland has managed to kill 280 fin whales.

Norway and Iceland remain the only two countries that continue to openly defy the moratorium.  Japan hunts whales under the guise of a “scientific whaling permit”, which in reality is no more than a moratorium loophole.  In over 25 years of the moratorium, over 30,000 whales have been killed. 

In an ironic twist, the majority of Icelanders oppose the whale hunt, pointing out that it is bad for tourism.  This becomes an especially poignant point when considering the fact that whale-watching boats also operate out of Reykjavik’s harbor, and may witness the slaughter the very animals they have paid to see alive.  Yet tourists are also unwittingly consuming the largest percentage of Iceland’s whale meat (typically minke whale), believing that by eating the meat they are partaking in a historic and cultural Icelandic tradition.  While Icelanders have utilized whales, and other marine species, for hundreds of years, widespread and popular consumption of the meat is a pervasive misconception. 

The biggest impact tourists and other individuals can make is to speak out against the whaling and let the country know that only sustainable whale-watching is supported.  In 2011, the United States threatened Iceland with economic sanctions over its commercial whaling.  President Obama, however, stopped short of sanctions and instead urged Reyjavik to halt the practice.