In 1982 the International Whaling Commission (IWC), of which Iceland is a member, agreed to stop all commercial whaling by 1986. However, both Iceland and Japan have continued to hunt whales through scientific whaling programs.
Since the 1986 ban, Iceland has hunted more than 1,700 whales, with minke whales and fin whales being the predominate whale species hunted. While most fin whale meat is sent to Japan, minke whale meat is usually served to tourists visiting Iceland even though whale meat is not a traditional Icelandic dish.
However, for the second year in a row, Iceland’s two whaling companies have announced that they will be skipping the annual whale hunt. One of the companies, IP-Utgerd, which specializes in the hunting of minke whales, told AFP that they are done hunting whales permanently.
“I’m never going to hunt whales again. I’m stopping for good,” said Gunnar Bergmann Jonsson, managing director of IP-Utgerd.
According to Jonsson, government regulations passed in 2017 that expanded Iceland’s two whale sanctuaries further offshore caused whaling to become too expensive for the company to continue. While increased costs are the main reason IP-Utgerd decided to end their hunting of minke whales, many marine mammal advocates are celebrating the company’s decision.
Patrick Ramage of the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) said his group “…salutes and commends our longtime partners and friends in Iceland who have been working to end the cruel and wasteful killing of fin whales and minke whales in Icelandic waters and finally end consumption of whale meat by international tourists.” For their part, IFAW has been co-leading the “Meet Us Don’t Eat Us” campaign in Iceland with IceWhale, which encourages tourists to go whale watching instead of eating whale meat during their visit.
Nonetheless, whaling continues to be a contentious issue around the world. Iceland’s only other whale company, Hvalur hf, which hunts fin whales, also announced that they will not be whaling this year. However, Hvalur hf has not declared a permanent end to their practice despite a lack of profitability in recent years.
“I believe the writing is on the wall now for the world’s most notorious whaler Kristjan Loftsson and his company Hvalur hf. Now is the time for Loftsson to hang up his harpoons and for Iceland to become an ethical whale watching nation,” stated Rob Read, Chief Operating Officer of Sea Shepherd UK and coordinator of Operation Mjölnir, which has been documenting the Hvalur hf’s whaling activities since 2018.
Iceland is not the only country reluctant to stop whaling. Just last year Japan sparked international outcry with their decision to leave the IWC and resume commercial whaling, including the hunting of minke whales. However, like Hvalur hf, Japanese whalers are struggling to turn a profit. With both profits and consumer demand down, whaling may be approaching an endpoint.