A strange mix of news from Iceland

Conservation news


News from Iceland that its suspension of whaling has been lifted may be more than it seems – what is certain is that a lot more is going on beneath the surface.

I wont pretend otherwise – everyone at ORCA was jubilant when earlier in the summer, Iceland announced that it was suspending its 2023 whaling season. So we felt inevitable disappointment and anger on learning that it has now lifted that suspension. So what exactly is going on?

The dilemma Iceland has now is one that is entirely self-created – earlier this year it commissioned a scientific analysis of the means by which whales are killed, which concluded that current methods are brutal and cruel. This report led to a suspension of the 2023 hunt, and even hope that Iceland’s whaling operations might end permanently.

But an expert working group, comprising the ministry of food, the national food agency and the Norwegian fisheries agency, was set up in July to examine whether it was possible to modify the whale hunt to reduce animal suffering. It has now decided that it might be possible, by changing the hunting methods used, to make them more humane.

In a statement to the Guardian, Iceland’s minister of food and agriculture, Svandís Svavarsdóttir, said: “With the expiry of the ban, the ministry is now implementing strict and detailed new requirements for hunting including equipment, methods and increased supervision."

“Irrespective of my personal or political standpoint on whaling, evaluation of its future remains ongoing and the official process continues.”

She stressed that the current permit was issued in 2019, before she took office and is valid to the end of 2023, adding: “A decision on any licenses being granted in 2024 has not yet been made.”

The country has only one remaining whaling company, Hvalur. Its five-year licence to hunt fin whales expires in December, and it hasn’t made any sort of profit in years.

There seems to be a sort of accepted inevitability around Icelandic whaling. It's as if there is some rearranging of deckchairs on a sinking ship going on, and while no one person wants to be the one to call time on slaughtering whales, it seems all this is window-dressing while the clock winds down.

Given that there has been a recognition of the fact that existing whaling methods are inhumane, it's hard to see how by making something slightly less dreadful and appalling can in any way be seen as a development that the global conservation community is going to applaud. It's rather like advocates for big game hunting pleading their case for continuing to shoot lions and elephants by way of saying they feel sure they can make the process more humane. And in doing so, they reveal just how out of touch they are with 21st century global thinking.

Besides which, what are these new whaling methods and who has assessed them besides, presumably, those advocating a continuation of this morally indefensible hunt? Seasoned campaigners against whaling believe the Icelandic whaling resumption is no more than a face-saving last hurrah for an economically bust and morally bankrupt industry, which is long overdue for keeling over in any event. Meantime, we just have to grit our teeth as the rusting fleet sets sail and put our faith in the fact that the only death throes we’ll see in Icelandic waters soon are that of this decrepit and outdated industry rather than magnificent fin whales.

Sally Hamilton, ORCA CEO

Photo credit: Richard Lovelock