Iceland Gets Away With Plan to Kill More Than 2,000 Whales?

More than 2,000 whales will be killed in Icelandic waters over the next five years, the nation’s government has announced.

Icelandic authorities have given the green light for 209 fin whales and 217 minke whales to be hunted every year, from now until 2023. It was claimed that this figure was low enough to sustain the whale population.

Nevertheless, the announcement has attracted condemnation from environmental campaigners across the globe, as well as Iceland’s own tourism departments.

Iceland’s controversial stance on whaling

Every country across the globe agreed to an international treaty drawn up by the International Whaling Commission (IWC) in 1986. The treaty prohibited whale-hunting, in an effort to protect some of the most endangered breeds of whale from extinction.  

However, in 2002, Iceland announced it would no longer be following these regulations. The key motive behind this decision was commercial benefit.

Nevertheless, upon announcing its defiance of the IWC’s treaty, Iceland promised that no commercial whaling would be signed off “without a sound scientific basis” backed by population management research. While announcing its latest whaling plans, it cited 2015 figures suggesting the Central North Atlantic whale population had tripled since 1987, to around 37,000.

Still, the nation was shrouded in criticism last year, following reports it had killed at least a dozen pregnant female whales, as well as two rare blue/fin whale hybrids. Norway is the only other nation to have opposed the IWC’s whaling regulations, although Japan will follow suit in July 2019.

Blowback from Iceland’s own tourism ministers

The Icelandic population appears to be split on the morality of whaling. A 2017 poll found that 35% of the population were supportive of the practice, while a similar proportion had no strong feeling either way.

Nevertheless, there are plenty of international animal rights campaigners with strong feelings against the nation’s decision to defy the IWC. Vanessa Williams-Grey, a campaigner for the Whale and Dolphin Conservation, said: “The Icelandic government’s decision to continue to kill whales – amongst the most peaceful and intelligent beings on the planet – is morally repugnant as well as economically bankrupt.”

Interestingly, the nation’s own tourism officials have questioned the decision, suggesting that the Icelandic economy would benefit more from live whales than dead ones. After all, whale watching revenue brought in an estimated 3.2 billion krona in 2017, eclipsing the 1.7 billion krona earned through selling whale meat that year.

Jóhannes Skúlason, managing director of the Icelandic Travel Industry Association, suggested that the government’s continued resistance to whale-hunting regulations could dissuade tourists from visiting the country. He said: “The tourist goes through a long period of planning his vacation, where he wants to go and do, and there are a lot of things that affect that decision—news of Icelandic whaling can be one of these influencing factors.”

IWC accused of not supporting sustainable economic whaling

Similar criticism was aimed at Japan when it made the decision to leave the IWC in December 2018. It must give six months’ notice before whale-hunting in Japanese waters can resume. 

Japanese authorities cited whale-hunting “for scientific research” among its reasons to defy the rules, as well as the economic benefits of selling whale meat and that eating whales was “part of the country’s culture”. It also accused the IWC of failing to support sustainable commercial whaling, despite this being one of the body’s official goals.

Darren Kindleysides, chief executive of the Australian Marine Conservation Society, has expressed fears over the wider implications of this decision. He said: “Leaving the IWC would set a very dangerous precedent for other international treaties and conventions. Not satisfied with harpooning whales, it now looks like Japan is threatening to harpoon the future of the IWC.”


Image credits:,, Sea Sheperd.

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