The whales of Iceland are safe from harpoons and nets for another year as the nation's two major whaling companies have decided to call off their summer whaling season.
IP-Utgerd, an Icelandic whaling business that specializes in hunting minke whales, has announced it plans to abandon whaling altogether, according to AFP news agency. Meanwhile, Hvalur hf, the largest whaling company in the country that specializes in fin whales, has paused its whaling operations for the second year in a row.
Since 2003, the year Iceland resumed commercial whaling after a hiatus, at least 1,500 fin and minke whales have been killed by the island nation, according to the International Fund for Animal Welfare. Thanks to this recent decision, 2020 will join last year as the second year since 2002 that no whales will be slaughtered in Icelandic waters. The move, however, appears to be guided by finances and bank balances, rather than a change of heart or concerns of conservation.
Kristján Loftsson, the CEO of Hvalur hf, told Icelandic newspaper Morgunblaðið that it would be too difficult to compete with Japan as their government subsidizes whale products. Loftsson also cited lockdown measures and the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic as a factor in the company’s decision.
Gunnar Bergmann Jonsson, the general manager of IP-Utgerd, cited business as the reason behind their move, saying that an extension of a no-fishing coastal zone would make their operations too costly as their boats would have to go further offshore.
"I'm never going to hunt whales again, I'm stopping for good," he said speaking to AFP on April 24.
Iceland, along with other countries including Norway and Japan, has continually flouted the International Whaling Commission’s (IWC) 1986 global moratorium, which indefinitely "paused" commercial whaling of all species and populations.
While minke whales (Balaenoptera acutorostrata) are the most common of the great whale species in the ocean, hunting of the species is prohibited under the IWC moratorium and remains widely condemned by conservationists. The issue of hunting fin whales is even more controversial. The fin whale (Balaenoptera physalus) is the second-largest animal on Earth after the blue whale, reaching lengths of up to 27 meters (~88 feet). Their numbers have increased since the 1970s, but the rare species is currently listed as vulnerable to extinct by the IUCN Red List.
Back in 2018, Hvalur hf was accused of killing 109 fin whales, of which 14 were pregnant, and two rare blue whale-fine whale hybrids. Sea Shepherd, a marine conservation activist group, filmed gruesome footage of whalers from Hvalur hf dragging a hybrid whale into a whale station in Hvalfjörðuand, before butchering its body for meat and blubber.
In light of this recent news, Sea Shepherd said they hope it will lead to a permanent cessation of the practice in Iceland and beyond.
"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, not whale killing nation," Rob Read, chief operating officer of Sea Shepherd UK and coordinator of Operation Mjölnir, said in a statement.