Iceland’s government has announced that it is suspending this year’s whale hunting until the end of August due to animal welfare concerns, likely bringing the controversial practice to a historic end. The decision was made after a recent monitoring report by the country’s Food and Veterinary Authority found that the killing of fin whales, the second-largest marine mammal after the blue whale, took too long based on the main objectives of the Animal Welfare Act. Shocking video clips showed a whale’s agony as it was hunted for five hours.
Whaling in Iceland has a long history, dating back to the 12th century, when spear-drift hunting was used. Despite an ongoing moratorium established by the International Whaling Commission in 1986, Iceland is one of a few countries that still maintain a whaling fleet and hunt fin and minke whales. Fin whale meat is largely exported to Japan, while minke whale meat is mostly served to tourists who believe it is part of the cultural experience. However, the demand for whale meat has decreased, while the demand for whale watching has increased, making the whales more valuable alive than dead.
The minister of food, agriculture and fisheries, Svandis Svavarsdottir, said she would seek the opinions of experts and whale-hunting licence holders to explore further limitations on whaling in the future. Iceland has only one remaining whaling company, Hvalur, and its licence to hunt fin whales expires in 2023. Another company hung up its harpoons for good in 2020, saying it was no longer profitable.
Animal rights groups and environmentalists hailed the decision, with the Humane Society International calling it “a major milestone in compassionate whale conservation”. They urged the minister to make this a permanent ban, as there is no humane way to kill a whale at sea. They also pointed out that whales already face so many serious threats in the oceans from pollution, climate change, entanglement in fish nets and ship strikes, that ending cruel commercial whaling is the only ethical conclusion