Iceland’s government lifted a ban on commercial whaling. The temporary ban had been implemented in June due to animal welfare concerns but it ended this week.
The country’s government implemented new guidelines aimed at killing whales as fast as possible to reduce suffering, but stopped short of banning the practice. This makes Iceland one of the very few countries still left legally pursuing whaling.
Nevertheless, the countries’ private sector isn’t exactly head over heels for whaling. In fact, only one company, called Hvalur, is still hunting whales off the coast of Iceland.
Whale hunting in Iceland
The International Whaling Commission, a global organization that works on whale conservation, set a global moratorium in 1986 after some species were close to extinction. Iceland, together with Norway and Japan, are notable exceptions that continue to allow commercial whaling — sometimes, even endangered whales. Last year, Iceland killed 148 fin whales.
A survey earlier this year by Icelandic research company Maskína found that 51% of Icelanders oppose the whale hunts. Fisheries and Foods Minister Svandis Svavarsdottir told reporters she understood the views of most Icelanders but said she had to follow a legal framework based on the license given to Hvalur by her predecessor.
“With the expiry of the ban, the ministry is now implementing strict and detailed new requirements for hunting including equipment, methods and increased supervision,” Svavarsdottir told The Guardian. “Irrespective of my personal or political standpoint on whaling, evaluation of its future remains ongoing and the official process continues.”
Iceland banned commercial whaling in June after a government report found it took too long for whales to die after they were harpooned, in violation of the law on animal welfare. Following the report, a group of experts looked at ways to address this and found “it’s possible to improve the methods used,” a government statement reads.
The new regulations will include stricter requirements for hunting equipment and methods. Hunting should only happen in daylight and within a distance of 25 meters from the boat. No calf must be involved. Government agencies, the Directorate of Fisheries and the Food and Veterinary Authority will work together on supervision.
Chris Johnson, global lead of the whales and dolphins’ initiative at the World Wildlife Fund, said resuming whaling is a step in the wrong direction for Iceland.
“Fin whales are the second largest animal on Earth, classified as ‘vulnerable’ by the IUCN, and are found in all major oceans from tropical to polar regions,” Johnson said in a news release
Ruud Tombrock from the Humane Society International said it’s “inexplicable” that Iceland lifted the ban. “There is simply no way to make harpooning whales at sea anything other than cruel and bloody, and no number of modifications will change that. Iceland had a chance to do the right thing and it chose not to,” he said in a news release.
The species most hunted in Iceland are fin whales, the world’s second-largest whale species. They are listed as endangered, threatened by whaling, habitat loss, pollution, and climate change. Iceland has annual quotas for the whales fishermen are allowed to hunt (209 fin whales). The country doesn’t even consume much whale meat, it exports most of it to Japan.
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