The inconsistencies of Iceland

Conservation news


Earlier this month I wrote a blog, through gritted teeth, about Iceland’s decision to resume whaling. It was hard to write - an official Icelandic report had concluded that there wasn’t a humane way to kill a whale, and so as it stood, Icelandic whaling contravened its own national Animal Welfare regulations.

Most other countries would have used the science in the report as a face-saving exercise to tactically withdraw from the practice. Even the Minister who commissioned the research said “I believe that industries incapable of guaranteeing animal welfare should be considered part of our past rather than our future."

Instead, Iceland introduced a suspiciously weak-looking temporary halt to its whaling and then at the start of September, gave it the green light once again. It seems the industry had made a lot of pleading promises about better self-regulation, competence, techniques and its slaughter armoury. We can be sure it gave the guarantees that the Minister sought.

And so the creaking, rusty Hvalur whaling fleet set sail once again. But during a monitoring operation by the Icelandic Food & Veterinary Authority (MAST) on September 7, Hvalur 8 was filmed harpooning a fin whale and missing the specified target area on its body, meaning it would be wounded and in inconceivable pain. New rules mean that the whale should have then been dispatched immediately with a subsequent harpoon shot. But it took a further 30 minutes for the second harpoon to be fired and even then, the whale did not die instantly. All this was filmed by the authorities, and the Hvalur 8 was suspended from hunting due to severe violations of whaling protocols.

In an interview with Kristján Loftsson, Hvalur CEO, he blamed the incident on mechanical failure, and said that the suspension was “unjust”, saying that if you were involved in a car accident, you shouldn’t expect to lose your licence for a lifetime. He also confirmed that Hvalur continued to make significant financial losses.

This encapsulates all that is wrong with whaling. Firstly it is economically worthless – actually worth less than nothing since its losing money. Secondly, and from an entirely practical perspective, you can’t humanely kill a whale as a moving target in the sea from a ship bouncing around the choppy North Atlantic using demonstrably unreliable equipment. And when it all goes wrong, as it has done in this case, the whalers never take responsibility. Not content with pointing the finger at conservationists and animal welfare organisations for years, Loftsson is now a workman blaming his tools, as well as the authorities for misinterpretation, reputational damage and saying the official video didn’t reflect the operational reality.

MAST have stated that the suspension will remain in effect until “..corrective measures have been implemented and verified by both MAST and the Directorate of Fisheries.” Icelandic media have suggested this means Hvalur undertaking target training using harpoons at sea.

As far as pointless exercises go, this has to be near the top of the league. Its own science has concluded that there may be no humane way to kill a whale. Its immediate follow-up monitoring of the guarantees made by the industry that whaling can be humane has graphically evidenced that it cannot. But it seems the limping, incompetent industry will be sent back to target-training school and given another lifeline to carry out its trade in slaughter. You do wonder just how long the Icelandic authorities are prepared to see this sad charade played out.

Iceland is a country with a proud heritage in many respects, but its procrastination and dithering over whaling has become intolerable and it risks humiliation unless it grasps the fact that you can't kill whales humanely. End of.

Sally Hamilton, ORCA CEO