In defiance of an international moratorium on commercial whaling, the Icelandic ship Hvalur hf left port last week after a two-year pause in that country’s fin whale hunt. Iceland’s goal is to kill up to 238 fin whales this summer – in addition to its other self-allocated quota of 262 minke whales. The country’s open disregard for international rules is of as much concern as the fact that fin whales are a species at risk for extinction, and the cruelty and inhumanity involved in killing these magnificent, slow-breeding and long-lived animals.
Fin whales are the second-largest mammals in the world, after blue whales, and can reach nearly 89 feet in length and weigh more than 150,000 pounds. Hvalur’s gunners will fire exploding grenades at these whales, and since approximately one in five won’t die immediately, they’ll be struck again, taking many minutes to suffer and die.
Hvalur had refrained from whaling since 2016 apparently because of differences of opinion over quarantine inspection by Japanese authorities, a declining market for whale meat in Japan, and the threat of economic sanctions from the U.S. government. But following changes in inspection procedures and other matters, the company decided to resume the hunt.
Iceland intends to export the endangered fin whale meat to Japan – another country that whales in defiance of the international moratorium – flouting yet another international treaty.
Heavily hunted during the 20th century, this gentle giant remains classified as a globally threatened species and is considered to be at risk of extinction throughout all or a part of their historical range.
In 1982, the International Whaling Commission imposed a moratorium on commercial whaling in order to protect the fin whale and other great whales and allow their numbers to recover. There is some evidence this is happening, but this does not mean it is time for the IWC to reverse itself and allow commercial hunting — something Iceland and its allies would like to see. There are many good arguments against this, including the inherent cruelty and the fact that it is an entirely unnecessary and outmoded practice that is out of step with the views of the majority of citizens around the world. For the sake of the whales, as well as for our own sakes, we must not repeat the mistakes of the past.
Iceland’s posture in relation to the IWC has long been of concern to whale campaigners. As a member nation of IWC, Iceland agreed to be bound by the moratorium in the 1982 vote and did not object at the time. Subsequently, Iceland quit the IWC, and then returned, this time opting out of the same measure to which it had earlier agreed. In the run-up to this year’s IWC meeting in Florianopolis, Brazil, we’ll be working with whale-friendly nations and other nongovernmental organizations to bring greater diplomatic pressure to put a stop to Iceland’s whaling.
Interestingly, by next spring, Iceland will be the site of an important initiative to situate once-captive beluga whales from a Chinese marine park in a secluded sanctuary. The whales, named Little Grey and Little White, will travel by land, sea and air on a 6,000-mile journey from Changfeng Ocean World in Shanghai to an inlet at Klettsvik Bay, at Heimaey Island off Iceland’s southern coast. The sanctuary is a joint project involving the SEA LIFE Trust and the organization Whale and Dolphin Conservation. The stakeholders selected the Klettsvik Bay site, which encompasses nearly eight acres, to provide a sub-Arctic environment and habitat for the two whales.
I’ll be watching for news of Little Grey and Little White, not least because I hope their story might signal a new chapter in Iceland’s history, one based on sanctuary and care, not on killing.