Did whales just find a friend in Iceland? Possibly. The country’s fisheries minister recently said that the country will end the practice of commercial whale hunting in 2024.
“Why should Iceland take the risk of keeping up whaling, which has not brought any economic gain, in order to sell a product for which there is hardly any demand?” Svandis Svavarsdottir recently told the Morgunbladid newspaper (via BBC).
Iceland is currently one of only three countries in the world that still has a commercial whale hunting industry, with the other two being Japan and Norway. Whale hunters have been harvesting whales off of Iceland’s waters going as far back as the 12th century and momentarily abandoned the practice before resuming whale hunting in 2003, despite a 1986 International Whaling Commission moratorium.
The country has been a primary hunter of minke whales (not currently threatened) as well as the large fin whales (endangered), but as National Geographic pointed out in 2016, the desire for whale meat in the country has been on the decline for years. With fewer restaurants selling it, whalers attempted to pivot with whale dog food and beer, without much success. Instead, much of the whale meat Icelandic fishermen have taken was eventually sold to Japan.
After Japan resumed whaling in 2019, however, after a three-decade hiatus, the need for imported whale meat from Iceland took a nosedive. According to Svavarsdottir, only a single whale has been killed in the last three years. (This is a major drop from the 2018 season in which 146 fin whales and six Minke whales were killed.)
It’s not just a drop in sales of whale meat to Japan that has led to the country proposing getting out of the whaling business, but the negative impact it has as well. For example, when Iceland resumed whaling in 2006, Whole Foods said it would no longer market the country’s other products.
Japan’s whaling industry faced international scorn in 2021, when a video captured by a drone showed the slow 20-minute drowning death of a minke whale. Norway killed 571 minke whales in 2021, many of them pregnant females, according to Whale and Dolphin Conservation.
While Iceland officials didn’t do a 180 and decide to put the brakes on the practice of whale hunting out of conservation motives – the decision was only financially motivated – it’s still welcomed news for marine mammal advocates.
“This is obviously hugely welcome news… and not before time. Icelandic whalers have killed hundreds of whales in recent years, despite almost zero domestic demand,” said Vanessa Williams-Grey of the UK charity Whale and Dolphin Conservation.
Photos via Flickr Commons and Wikipedia Commons