Iceland calls off summer whale hunt

Image: Davide Cantelli, Unsplash

The Icelandic government has called off this summer’s fin whale hunt, in a move that could signal the end of the controversial practice.

Icelandic fisheries minister Svandís Svavarsdóttir announced suspension of all fin whaling until at least the end of August 2023, on the grounds that it breaks the country’s own animal welfare laws.

She said, “The conditions of the law on animal welfare are in my mind inescapable - if the government and license holders cannot guarantee welfare requirements, this activity has no future.”

In addition, no new fin whaling licences have been issued for 2024 onwards.

"The suspension is a significant step forward in the global movement to enable whales to flourish as our climate and biodiversity heroes.”

Luke McMillan, Whale & Dolphin Conservation

Iceland’s whaling season runs from mid-June to mid-September. The 2023 suspension follows release of an independent report by the country's Food & Veterinary Authority, which concluded last year's hunt season was unlawful because it fell below standards set out in the Icelandic Animal Welfare Act.

The report highlighted the hunting process involves following the whales for some time, which causes them stress and fear and killing them is not possible in a quick and painless manner. The report also concluded it is not possible to determine the sex of a whale from the ship or whether they are about to kill a pregnant female or a lactating mother with a calf.

Animal welfare groups have been campaigning for a ban on whaling in Iceland for decades.

Luke McMillan, campaigner from the charity Whale & Dolphin Conservation, said, “This is a major success for our campaign to stop whaling in Iceland and could now finally bring an end to the slaughter there. Moreover, this decision could also pave the way to the cessation of whaling in Norway and Japan.

“Alongside our partners we have been exposing the cruelty involved in these hunts and, to their credit, the Icelandic authorities have listened. This decisive action sends a powerful message that the deliberate killing of whales is no longer acceptable.

"The suspension is a significant step forward in the global movement to enable whales to flourish in the ocean as our climate and biodiversity heroes.”

The Icelandic ministry will now examine possible improvements and the legal conditions for imposing further restrictions based on the Animal Welfare Act and the Whaling Act, and will seek the opinion of experts and license holders.

The fin whale is the second-largest whale species on earth, second only to the blue whale. Despite being classified as vulnerable by the International Union for Conservation of Nature, and a lack of demand for the meat, current quotas allow for the killing of 209 fin whales in Iceland.

In 2022, 148 were killed. However, opposition to the practice has been on the rise in Iceland with a majority now in favour of dropping the declining practice.

Image: ArtHouse Studio, Pexels

Kitty Block, chief executive of Humane Society International, said: "Economic factors have certainly played a significant role in the demise of this cruel industry - with little demand for whale meat at home and exports to the Japanese market dwindling - but it is the overriding moral argument against whaling that has sealed its fate.

“Iceland is already one of the best places in the world to go whale watching and the country stands to attract even more ecotourists now that is has abandoned whaling.”