Iceland’s government announced this week that it will allow its two remaining commercial whaling operations to slaughter 2,000 whales over the next five years, despite outcry from conservationists and animal-rights activists, CNN is reporting.
Whale hunting has been banned internationally since 1986, but Iceland and, according to the New York Post, Norway, continue to openly hunt whales in defiance of the International Whaling Commission’s rule. Most of the harvest from the mammals is sent to Japan, where the meat is considered a delicacy. In fact, Japan also hunts whales — and dolphins — although the Asian nation uses a loophole in the law that allows for the killing of the mammals for scientific and research purposes. Some of the whale meat harvested in Iceland is sold to tourists; Icelanders themselves have long since stopped eating whale meat, says Whale and Dolphin Conservation (WDC) spokesperson Chris Butler-Stroud.
Iceland’s Fisheries Minister Kristján Þór Júlíusson notes that the country won’t allow the hunting of endangered or threatened species of whales, such as the blue whale, but rather common species that are abundant in the North Atlantic and Arctic oceans.
“Whaling in Icelandic waters is only directed at abundant whale stocks, North Atlantic common minke whales and fin whales, it is science-based, sustainable, strictly managed and in accordance with international law.”
Conservationists, however, disagree with Júlíusson’s assessment of the abundance of both animals. While the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) lists the status of minke whales as “least concern,” meaning they are unlikely to be extinct in the near future, fin whales are considered “near threatened.”
How does #Iceland respond to reports that populations of fin whales are increasing? By announcing that, despite international whaling ban, 200+ individuals can be killed each year in its waters up to 2023 along with 200+ minke whales. Sickening.https://t.co/Tl1lwz1X8m— ADI (@AnimalDefenders) February 22, 2019
Besides conservation concerns, there are animal-rights concerns as well. Whales are still traditionally killed by harpooning, which Butler-Stroud says is an agonizing way for the animals to die.
“It’s a horrendous way to kill an animal. You have to have a good justification to kill an animal in this way, not just feeding tourists and exporting to the Japanese market. I really don’t see that justifying Iceland to go off and kill whales at this time.”
What Butler-Stroud hopes will truly convince Iceland to give up its whaling for good, if not international condemnation, is economics. Already the country brings in far more money from whale watching than from whaling proper. According to the University of Iceland, commercial whaling brought in $11.8 million per year to Iceland’s economy between 2009 and 2017, while whale watching brought in $342 million in 2017 alone.
In fact, economics seems to be taking a toll on the whale-hunting industry. Demand for whale meat in Japan is down, and whalers have to travel further into sea to find whales, contributing to the cost of hunting them. Indeed, one Icelandic whaling company cut short its hunt last year after failing to turn a profit.