When Iceland suspended the summer 2023 commercial whaling season, many were optimistic it could be the final nail in the coffin for the dwindling whaling industry. However, those hopes have been dashed after Iceland's government quietly announced it will be lifting the summer suspension on whaling, effectively allowing hunting to resume under a new set of regulations.
The suspension was first announced in June 2023 by Svandís Svavarsdóttir, Iceland’s Minister of Food, Agriculture, and Fisheries. It came off the bat of a major report published by the Icelandic Food and Veterinary Authority in May 2023 that suggested whales are often subjected to long and agonizing deaths at the hands of Icelandic sailors.
The whaling season was put on ice until September 1, during which time the Icelandic government said they’d be reviewing the situation to see how lined up with their animal welfare laws.
Now, they have concluded that whaling can resume, although they have put forward a number of new regulations designed to make the practice appear more humane.
Under the new regulations, whales can only be hunted off Iceland within a distance of 25 meters (80 feet) from the boat to reduce the odds of the animals receiving painful, but non-fatal, injuries. Furthermore, hunters are not allowed to kill any whales if a calf is following them. Some controversial methods of slaughter, such as electrification, have also been outlawed.
Nevertheless, animal rights groups are not happy with the news.
“The Animal Welfare Institute (AWI) is disappointed in the Icelandic government’s decision to allow commercial fin whaling to resume,” Kate O’Connell, senior policy consultant for AWI’s marine life program, said in a statement sent to IFLScience.
“This determination will surely condemn many whales to a cruel, unnecessary death. Thankfully, the new regulation will ban the use of electricity as a killing method, as this has not been proven to be an effective method of euthanasia,” added O’Connell.
Luke McMillan, an anti-whaling campaigner at Whale and Dolphin Conservation, was even less positive about the new regulations, saying in a statement: “These new measures are pointless and irrelevant. Training, education and better equipment or killing methods - the measures they have put in place - will never make whaling acceptable - there is no humane way to kill whales at sea and they will still suffer.”
Iceland has just one remaining whaling company, Hvalur, that commercially hunts fin whales (Balaenoptera physalus) – one of the largest animal species on earth. Under the IUCN Red List, the giant species is considered vulnerable to extinction.
There is still some hope that whaling in Iceland has met its end, however. The government is responsible for issuing licenses to Hvalur and there’s no promise they will receive a permit in 2024.
“Despite today’s decision, we are hopeful that Hvalur’s whaling permit will not be renewed in future seasons, and AWI will continue to push for an end to all commercial whaling,” explained O’Connell.