Iceland Flouts International Ban to Slaughter First Protected Fin Whale of New Hunting Season

Photo from 2015 hunt, by Timothy Baker

Reykjavic, Iceland—Conservation and animal protection organizations are horrified at the slaughter today of an endangered fin whale by Icelandic whaling company Hvalur hf in defiance of the international ban on commercial whaling.

The hunt is Iceland’s first in three years and marks the start of a whaling season that could see as many as 238 of these majestic creatures killed.

A 67-foot fin whale—landed overnight at the whaling station in Hvalfjörður, Iceland—became the first kill of the new season.

Hvalur CEO Kristján Loftsson recently sparked outrage when he announced plans to resume his hunt of the second largest animal on the planet and to market fin whale meat, blubber and bones for iron supplements and other medicinal or food products.

Vanessa Williams-Grey, policy manager for WDC, Whale and Dolphin Conservation, stated: “This really is a paper-thin excuse to keep fin whaling alive. There is no justification for killing an endangered species for any reason, let alone in the name of ‘medicine.’ These whales often die in agony and for what? A desperate marketing gimmick with no proven benefit or safety record?”

For the first time since it resumed commercial whaling in 2006, Iceland’s self-allocated fin whaling quota allows whalers to expand their hunt to waters east of the country.

“Fin whales are highly migratory, endangered and protected by a number of international treaties,” said Susan Millward, director of marine programs for the Animal Welfare Institute (AWI). “The fin whales cruelly targeted by Icelandic grenade harpoons could be the same animals seen by tourists in places such as Ireland and the Azores. This slaughter comes at the expense of Iceland’s own whale watch industry and also threatens the livelihoods of people thousands of miles away.”

Fin whale meat is not popular in Iceland; the major market is Japan. Since 2008, more than 8,800 metric tons of whale meat and blubber have been shipped to Japan, despite the ban on international trade in whale meat under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES).

“It is unfathomable in this day and age that a country so well known for its nature tourism is tarnishing its image by allowing commercial whaling to continue in the face of growing domestic and international opposition,” said Clare Perry, ocean campaigns leader for the Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA). “We are urging the Icelandic government to recognize that this unnecessary and unsustainable industry brings no real benefits to Iceland’s economy and to refuse further whaling quotas.”

According to recent tax filings, Hvalur’s whaling has not made a profit for some time. It is the company’s indirect shareholdings in other corporations that allow whaling to continue. Hvalur draws profits from well-known Icelandic corporations, such as IT firm Origo hf and fishing gear giant, Hampiðjan.

At the same time, public support for fin whaling is plummeting. A 2018 survey by Icelandic polling company, MMR, found that only 34 percent of Icelanders support whaling, a 26 percent drop from 2013; 34 percent of the population actively oppose whaling, compared to 18 percent in 2013.

Last week, a group of peaceful protesters gathered at Reykjavík harbor to mark the official opening of the fin whaling season and Prime Minister Katrín Jakobsdóttir has called for a review of the impacts of whales and whaling on Iceland’s image and economy.

The Icelandic media is also widely critical of the industry. A recent article in the newspaper Fréttablaðið referred to Loftsson’s idea to turn whale meat into an iron pill as “a desperate pretext.”

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Media Contact

Margie Fishman, (202) 446-2128, margie@awionline.org

The Animal Welfare Institute (AWI) is a nonprofit charitable organization founded in 1951 and dedicated to reducing animal suffering caused by people. AWI engages policymakers, scientists, industry, and the public to achieve better treatment of animals everywhere—in the laboratory, on the farm, in commerce, at home, and in the wild. For more information, visit www.awionline.org.

The Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) investigates and campaigns against environmental crime and abuses. Its undercover investigations expose transnational wildlife crime, with a focus on elephants and tigers, and forest crimes such as illegal logging and deforestation for cash crops such as palm oil; it works to safeguard global marine ecosystems by tackling plastic pollution, exposing illegal fishing and seeking an end to all whaling; and addresses the threat of global warming by campaigning to curtail powerful refrigerant greenhouse gases and exposing related criminal trade. www.eia-international.org

WDC, Whale and Dolphin Conservation, is the leading global charity dedicated to the conservation and protection of whales and dolphins. We defend these remarkable creatures against the many threats they face through campaigns, lobbying, advising governments, conservation projects, field research and rescue. For more information, visit uk.whales.org.

Photo from 2015 hunt, by Timothy Baker