Conservation world awaits Icelandic decision


This is a crucial and potentially historic week for whales in the North Atlantic. Iceland’s Fisheries Minister, Svandís Svavarsdóttir is due to announce her longer-term decision on the future of whaling after suspending this season’s hunt following a scientific review which concluded that slaughter by explosive harpoon may not be humane.

A study and report by the Icelandic Food and Veterinary Authority (MAST), commissioned by Iceland’s Fisheries Minister, found that whales were taking as long as two hours to die after being harpooned.

Analysis of 58 hunted fin whales found that almost 40% (23 in total) suffered agonising and lengthy deaths at the hand of Iceland’s sole remaining whaling fleet. The average time to death for the 23 whales not killed instantaneously was 11.5 minutes. Five whales were harpooned three times and four whales were harpooned four times, with one whale taking 58 minutes to die and another suffered for two hours before dying.

ORCA said “Enough is enough. The Icelandic authorities have always said they will act on evidence so what more do they need? This barbaric and demonstrably cruel industry has clung on by its fingertips by arguing that its methods are humane. That has now been blown out of the water.”

“The report stopped short of saying that Iceland’s hunting regulations had been breached, arguing that the whalers were using the “best known” methods of killing whales, namely a grenade-tipped harpoon fired at a moving target from a ship at sea. Whether the method is well-known or not is irrelevant if it is incapable of guaranteeing animal welfare.”

Svandís Svavarsdóttir, Iceland’s minister of food, agriculture and fisheries appeared to agree with ORCA’s view, saying “I believe that industries incapable of guaranteeing animal welfare should be considered part of our past rather than our future.”

148 whales were killed in Iceland in 2022. The hunting of 58 whales was filmed and analysed by experts on behalf of the food and veterinary authority. It found that of the 36 whales shot more than once, five whales were shot three times and four whales were shot four times. One whale with a harpoon in its back was chased for five hours without success.

Photo: Sanne Bakkers