‘No future’: Iceland cancels whale hunt over animal welfare concerns

‘No future’: Iceland cancels whale hunt over animal welfare concerns

  • Citing animal welfare concerns, Iceland has suspended its whale hunting season until Aug. 31.
  • This decision follows the release of a government-commissioned independent report that found that many whales suffer immensely after being harpooned.
  • Iceland had been set to kill around 200 fin whales, up from the 148 it killed in 2022.

Iceland has suspended its planned hunt for fin whales this year, citing animal welfare concerns.

On June 20, Svandís Svavarsdóttir, the country’s minister of food, agriculture and fisheries, announced that the whale hunt was postponed because “the fishing method used when hunting large whales does not comply with the law on animal welfare.”

This decision follows the release of a government-commissioned independent report that found that 41% of whales targeted in the Icelandic hunts did not die immediately, but suffered immensely after being shot with harpoons. It also found that some whales took up to two hours to die.

The hunt has been suspended until Aug. 31, but experts close to the matter say it’s unlikely it will start after the suspension lifts, since September usually marks the end of the whaling season.

Harpoon on Icelandic whaling ship
A harpoon on an Icelandic whaling vessel. The 2023 whale hunt in Iceland was suspended until August 31, 2023. Image by Arne Feuerhahn / Hard to Port.

“I have made the decision to temporarily stop whaling in light of the unequivocal opinion of the professional council on animal welfare,” Svavarsdóttir said in a statement in Icelandic. “The conditions of the law on animal welfare are inescapable in my mind, if the government and license holders cannot guarantee welfare requirements, this activity does not see a future.”

Only one whaling company, Hvalur, holds a license to hunt whales in Iceland, which is set to expire in 2023. Another Icelandic whaling company, IP-Utgerd, ceased operations in 2020 due to financial difficulties.

Arne Feuerhahn, founder of Hard to Port, a German organization that has worked to end the Icelandic whale hunts, says the news surprised him.

“I was standing in front of one of the whaling ships … when I received the news,” Feuerhahn, currently in Iceland, told Mongabay by phone. “It was a very, very special and emotional moment because so many people have put a lot of energy over the past few months and years to get to this outcome.”

Before receiving the news, Feuerhahn said he’d been expecting the whalers to begin hunting on June 21.

Feuerhahn, who has been working with partners to document the Icelandic whale hunts since 2015, says he previously shared video of the whale hunts with Svavarsdóttir. The government then placed observers on all whaling ships in 2022.

This year, Iceland was set to kill around 200 fin whales (Balaenoptera physalus), considered vulnerable to extinction by the global conservation authority IUCN.

Two fin whales being dragged through the water. In 2022, Iceland killed 148 fin whales. Image by Arne Feuerhahn / Hard to Port.

In 2022, Iceland killed 148 fin whales. In 2018, it killed 44 fin whales and two rare hybrids of fin and blue whales.

Iceland has been one of the very few countries, along with Japan and Norway, that has continued to hunt whales despite the International Whaling Commission enacting a global moratorium on commercial whaling in 1986.

A survey conducted by Icelandic research company Maskína found that 51% of Icelanders oppose the whale hunts, while only 29% are in favor. Most of those in favor were 60 years or older.

“This is a major milestone in compassionate whale conservation,” Ruud Tombrock, the executive director of the Humane Society International in Europe, 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.”

Banner image caption: The harpoon or catcher ship Hvalur 8 arrives at the whaling station in Hvalfjörður, West Iceland. Two fin whales are tied to the starboard side of the ship. Image by Arne Feuerhahn / Hard to Port.

Elizabeth Claire Alberts is a senior staff writer for Mongabay. Follow her on Twitter @ECAlberts.

Iceland won’t be killing any whales this year

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