Icelandic whaling company Hvalur – the country’s only commercial fin whaling firm – has announced that it will not be hunting fin whales this summer, citing outdated regulatory standards in Japan, where its main market is located, as the reason for the decision. While this is obviously good news for those with an interest in protecting the marine mammal, it does not mean that the company won’t resume whaling again in the future, as it did in 2013 following a two-year break.
According to Whale and Dolphin Conservation (WDC), less than 2 percent of the Icelandic population regularly eats whale meat, although Japanese markets continue to offer a source of revenue for Hvalur, which killed 155 fin whales last year. However, the company’s chief executive Kristján Loftsson says that “endless obstacles” put in place by Japanese whale meat testing officials have forced the 2016 hunt to be called off, according to Iceland Monitor.
“If Japan does not adopt modern testing methods such as used in Iceland […], Hvalur will no longer be able to hunt whales for the Japanese market,” said Loftsson.
Iceland’s hunting of fin whales – which are listed as an endangered species – directly contravenes a moratorium on commercial whaling set by the International Whaling Committee (IWC) in 1986. However, since Iceland refused to sign this treaty, and membership to the IWC is voluntary, the organization is unable to force Icelandic whalers to observe the ban.
Though a member of the IWC at the time, Iceland later left the organization in 1992, before being allowed to return a decade later. In 2003, the country resumed its scientific whaling program following several years of inactivity, initiating a five-year research project which, like that of Japan, was widely criticised for being of little scientific value.
In 2009, Iceland dropped the guise of research and began openly admitting that its main interest in whaling was of a commercial nature. The following year, it conducted the largest commercial whale hunt in history, killing 148 fin whales and 60 minke whales.
Defending this operation, the Icelandic government claimed in 2010 that killing 150 fin whales and 150 minke whales a year could help to protect stocks of fish preyed upon by these mammals, increasing the annual cod quota by 1,995 tonnes (2,200 tons) and the haddock quota by 4,445 tonnes (4,900 tons). However, these calculations were challenged by a subsequent report by WDC, which argued that consumption of these fish by whales is much lower than the government’s claims suggested.