Iceland whaling

The harpoon ship Hvalur 9 is seen transporting two dead fin whales on Hvalfjörður fjord near the village of Miðsandur, Iceland on August 6, 2022.

(Photo: Sergei Gapon/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)

'Major Milestone in Compassionate Whale Conservation' as Iceland Suspends Hunt

"There is no humane way to kill a whale at sea, and so we urge the minister to make this a permanent ban," said Humane Society International's Europe director.

Citing animal welfare concerns, Iceland's government is suspending this summer's whale hunt through the end of August, a move cheered by marine conservationists—who are pressing for a permanent whaling ban.

Icelandic Minister of Food, Agriculture, and Fisheries Svandís Svavarsdóttir—a member of the Left-Green Movement, which leads a three-party ruling coalition—explained Tuesday that "I have made the decision to temporarily stop whaling in light of the unequivocal opinion of the council of animal welfare specialists," according to a translation by Iceland Review.

"The conditions of the Act on Animal Welfare are inescapable in my mind: If the government and license-holders cannot guarantee welfare requirements, this activity does not have a future," she added, raising whaling opponents' hopes for a permanent ban.

Svavarsdóttir's decision follows the publication this week of a report by the country's Food and Veterinary Authority (MAST) that called last season's whale hunt illegal because it did not meet the standards required by the Icelandic Animal Welfare Act.

"This is a major milestone in compassionate whale conservation. Humane Society International is thrilled at this news and praises Minister Svavarsdóttir for ending the senseless whale killing which will spare hundreds of minke and imperiled fin whales from agonizing and protracted deaths," the advocacy group's Europe executive director Rudd Tombrock said in a statement.

"There is no humane way to kill a whale at sea, and so we urge the minister to make this a permanent ban," Tombrock added. "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."

Speaking after last year's Icelandic whaling season, Sharon Livermore, the director for marine conservation at the Massachusetts-based International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) noted that "studies have shown that it can take up to 25 minutes for a whale to die after being shot with an explosive harpoon."

"This summer, one fin whale was landed with four harpoons in its body. This tragic example indicates that many whales suffer a slow and agonizing death because of whaling," she added. "It is unbearable to imagine how these animals must suffer."

Danny Groves of the U.K.-based group Whale and Dolphin Conservation wrote on Tuesday:

Aside from the issues with the killing methods, the MAST report's expert panel also concluded that it is not possible to determine the sex of a whale from the ship or whether they are about to kill a pregnant female or a lactating mother with a calf. The chances of surviving for motherless whale calves are negligible. Hunting is also not possible without following the whales for some time before shooting, which causes stress and fear, and killing them is not possible in a quick and painless manner.

Referring to Iceland, Robert Read, who heads the U.K. branch of the direct action group Sea Shepherd, said that "if whaling can't be done humanely here... it can't be done humanely anywhere."

"Whales are architects for the ocean," Read added. "They help boost biodiversity, they help fight climate change by affecting the carbon cycling process."

Last summer, Hvalur—the only whaling company still operating in Iceland—slaughtered 148 fin whales in the frigid Atlantic waters around the island nation. This, despite the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) classifying fin whales as "vulnerable."

The Icelandic government allows the annual slaughter of up to 209 fin whales and 217 minke whales. While the International Whaling Commission (IWC) agreed to a global moratorium on all commercial whaling in 1986, Iceland—which is an IWC member—formally objects to the policy.

IUCN credits bans on whaling—only Iceland, Japan, and Norway allow commercial hunts—for improving the fin whale's status from "endangered" to "vulnerable" in 2018.

Hvalur previously announced that this would be its last whaling season in business, citing a decline in profits, according toEuronews Green.

"Justification is required if whaling is to be allowed," Svavarsdóttir wrote in February 2022. "It must be demonstrated that it is economically justified to renew hunting permits."

"Justification is required if whaling is to be allowed."

The minister asserted that it is "indisputable" that whaling has "not had much economic significance for the national economy in recent years."

"There is little evidence that there is any economic benefit to doing this fishing, as the companies that have a license to do so have been able to catch whales in recent years but have not done it," she continued. "There may be several reasons for this, but perhaps the simplest explanation is that sustained losses from these fisheries are the most likely."

When Japan temporarily stopped hunting whales amid international activist pressure, the country imported whale meat from Iceland. However, Svavarsdóttir noted that "the Japanese now hunt their own whale meat."

"Why, she asked, "should Iceland take the risk of maintaining fisheries that have not produced economic benefits in order to sell a product for which there is little demand?"

Our work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.