Iceland and whaling

Background - 20 March, 2014
Iceland is a beautiful country – with a tourist industry that celebrates the natural wonders of the island – including whale watching. But its reputation is constantly blighted by one man and his whaling company, which is attempting to keep the killing machines afloat.

Fin whales are an endangered species and commercial hunting is banned . For many years Iceland accepted the international community’s decision, but back in 2006, they began hunting whales again, including fin whales, after 17 years off the water in order to resume exports to Japan. The decision was met with condemnation at home and abroad.

Iceland is one of the three countries still engaged in commercial whaling - along with Norway it has registered an objection to the International Whaling Commission's moratorium on commercial whaling. In the past, Iceland used the same loophole of "scientific whaling" as Japan - really an excuse for commercial whaling.

The Icelandic Tourist Board has consistently requested that licenses not be renewed and to invest instead in the whale-watching industry. In 2013, Greenpeace campaigners brought public pressure to bear and succeeded in not only preventing a shipment of meat from endangered fin whales being sent to Japan via Germany, but also got it sent back to Iceland. It followed similar actions in the Netherlands three years earlier.

One man stands in the way of changing Iceland’s whaling history. Wealthy businessman, Kristjan Loftsson, claims it is a tradition but all his catches are for  export to Japan. There is almost no appetite for whale meat in Iceland – or Japan or Norway. The returned shipment had come from a hunt four years earlier. Stocks from previous hunts are piling up in freezers Iceland in the same way that they are piling up in Norway and Japan – where unsellable meat from previous hunts in the Southern Ocean and North Pacific is still being stored and some media reports claim it is being used as dog food just to get rid of it.

Claims that a renewed whaling industry will bring jobs and a significant export income for Iceland – whose economy was one of the first to feel the full force of the global economic downturn – have proved unfounded. According to a Gallup survey for IFAW in December 2013, less than 3% of Icelanders regularly eat whale meat.

Fin whale hunts were cancelled in 2011 and 2012, but whaling resumed in 2013. At the end of 2013, the Icelandic government released a new five-year licence to hunt fin whales.

The decision goes against economics, environmental concerns, politics and common sense. When the first boat came back from the 2013 hunt, local protestors greeted it with banners asking: “what is the point”. It was the protestors, not the whalers who got the media spotlight.  

There is no point. Commercial whaling was banned in 1986 and the vanity of one man shouldn’t be allowed to claim the lives of hundreds of mammals the world has already pledge to protect.