Will Iceland ban whaling by the end of 2024?

Conservation news


Icelandic media (https://heimildin.is/grein/21004/vill-leyfi-til-hvalveida-naesta-aratuginn/) have reported that Kristján Loftsson, the owner of Iceland’s one and only whaling company Hvalur hf, has applied for a new licence to hunt fin whales beginning in the summer of 2024. He’s seeking a licence for the next five to 10 years. A spokesman for the ministry said that “..the application is being processed and that it will be processed as soon as possible.”

This news is another twist in a saga which began in February 2022, when Minister of Food, Agriculture and Fisheries Svandis Svavarsdóttir, a member of the Left Green party, wrote in Morgunblaðið newspaper; “There are few justifications to authorise the whale hunt beyond 2024,” when current quotas expire, “There is little proof that there is any economic advantage to this activity,” she said.

In June last year, Svandís postponed the start of the whaling season. However the Alþingi (National Parliament of Iceland) Ombudsman concluded in January this year that the Minister did not act in accordance with the law. In their application for a permit, Hvalur state that "..restrictions on freedom of employment have to be supported by laws passed by Alþingi". Media reports indicate that Hvalur have submitted a compensation claim in January for loss of earnings resulting from the season being suspended. Media speculated that Svandis’s position was under threat because of the Ombudsman’s adjudication, and that in turn might put the entire Icelandic coalition Government at risk.

Also in January, Svandís said that an independent party would be tasked with reviewing the legislation and administration of whaling. But this does little more than repeat the expert May 2023 study already undertaken by Iceland’s food and agriculture agency, which revealed that the hunting of large whales in 2022 — while not violating any Icelandic laws — does not align with the nation’s animal welfare standards. “One whale with a shuttle in its back was chased for 5 hours without success,” states the report, which examined how 58 whales in total were hunted.

Despite the use of explosive harpoons, the animals struggled for an average of 11.5 minutes before death, according to the report. An estimated 67 percent died or were rendered unconscious almost immediately, while 24 percent had to be shot more than once. Ultimately, the experts concluded the whale hunt was in violation of Iceland’s animal welfare regulations.

And in a further twist, Hvalur has just been fined a paltry ISK 400,000 ($2,900 / €2,700) for violating animal welfare laws by delaying a necessary follow-up shot on a fin whale in September of 2023, in the short window that the whaling season resumed after its earlier suspension. This breach of regulations led to a further temporary suspension of the company’s whaling activities last year.

An Icelandic news report from the end of February states that Svandís is now on “medical leave”, with Prime Minister Katrín Jakobsdóttir responsible for her duties in the meantime. We can only begin to guess what happens next.

Despite commercial whaling decimating whale populations globally for over a hundred years, there are still countries which think it is acceptable to hunt and kill whales for profit. Our work plays a vital role in helping to put pressure on UK and other governments to drive an end to commercial whaling globally, so please support us at www.orca.org.uk/donate to help us continue this important work.

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