First fin whales killed in Iceland

Feature story - June 22, 2009
The whaling boat Hvalur 9 dragged two massive fin whales up to the ancient whaling station ramp at Hvalförður in the early hours. If it were not for Iceland's midnight sun the whalers would have been sneaking in under the cover of the night – a scene befitting the shameful hunt that can only do untold damage to Iceland’s reputation.

The whales were killed on Friday morning, just days before the International Whaling Commission (IWC) meetings begin in Madeira, Portugal. The start of the hunt was clearly intended to deride efforts to modernise the Commission and stop the needless slaughter of whales.

The whales are the first of 150 fin whales Icelandic whaler Kristjan Loftsson plans to hunt this year, despite having no domestic market for the meat and no interest from importers in Japan. The hunt is part of a 5 year whaling programme agreed by the former Icelandic government, just hours before it collapsed earlier this year. The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) lists fin whales as an endangered species globally that requires special protection. 

Iceland's new government "fallen asleep" on the issue

Iceland's new government under Prime Minister Jóhanna Sigurðardóttir has openly voiced its opposition to whaling. Yet, by failing to stop the hunt it appears to have fallen asleep on the issue and allowed the whalers to dictate policy.

The government has not only failed to stop the controversial fin whale hunt from going ahead. It is also failing to stop a hunt of minke whales that started in May. Shockingly, the minkes are being hunted in the same areas as those visited by whale watching trips.

By not taking action to stop the hunts, the new government risks squandering a real chance to save Iceland's environmental and international reputation, as well as hopes for speedy accession to the pro-conservation Europe Union.

No market for whale meat

There is no domestic whale meat market in Iceland. Loftsson justifies the hunt by promising to sell the meat to Japan, claiming it can help Iceland recover from its economic crisis.

We recently showed that this is absolute hogwash, when we released audio and an English transcript of a very interesting conversation we had with the Japanese trader who imported fin and minke whale meat from Iceland and Norway last year. The head of the Asia Trading Company in Tokyo told us very clearly that he will not take any more in the future, because there is no market for the whale meat in Japan. In fact, he only took it last year as a favour to Loftsson because he is a friend.

Iceland hunt starts on eve of IWC meetings

The fin whale hunt has started just before the IWC meets in Madeira, Portugal. The blatant disregard displayed by the Icelandic whalers for international agreements, economics and the environment is a prime example of why the IWC needs to put its own house in order and become an effective conservation body that works for whales, not whalers.

Madeira is a perfect setting for such change. In 1981, Portugal moved to protect all whales and dolphins throughout its territories, ending the island's long association with whaling. Madeira's fast-growing whale watching industry proves once again that whales are worth much more alive than dead.

Icleand is well positioned to follow this example. More than 115,000 people have already taken our Iceland Pledge, saying they would visit the country, and go whale watching, if the government ends whaling.

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