“This is very good news for minke whales and for Iceland,” Sigursteinn Masson, the Iceland Representative for The International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW), said in a statement. “Ending minke whaling will have a very positive impact on the far more economically viable industry of commercial whale watching.”
A spokesperson for IP Fisheries, the main minke whaling company in Iceland, said that several factors played a role in their decision. Last December’s enlargement of the whale sanctuary in Faxafloi Bay near Reykjavik meant that 85 percent of hunted minke whales that were historically harpooned are now in protected waters.
In order to continue to catch minke whales, fishermen have had to head out further and further from shore, but it’s not proven to be particularly successful. The industry had a self-allocated quota of 262 whales, but only 6 were caught – in June alone – which reports suggest is the most productive time for the industry. It’s the lowest number of caught whales since 2003, when commercial whaling restarted.
It’s notable that minke whaling was primarily conducted for tourists, who mistakenly assume it forms a traditional Icelandic dish. In fact, an extremely small percentage of the country is reported to regularly eat minke whale meat.
Tourists, however, are increasingly more likely to go whale spotting on boats these days, while the number of those eating minke whale has fallen quite dramatically, from 40 percent in 2009 to 11 percent in 2017.
Perhaps with increasingly unprofitable and time-consuming hunts, along with a string of grim headlines, minke whale hunters began to see the writing on the wall and threw in the towel.
So is this really the end? Perhaps, but it’s worth noting a very similar news story circulated back in 2007, when the whaling industry in Iceland was said to be closing, once again due to declining profits.
Either way, it’s worth remembering that the latest news applies to just the minke whale, whose population numbers are somewhat stable enough to have it listed as “Least Concern” on the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). Fin whales, however, are listed as Endangered, and are still being hunted by the country’s only other whaling company, Hvalur hf, in their hundreds.
Whaling in Iceland has long been carried out, leading to the deaths of around 35,000 whales since the late-19th Century.
Japan, which also engages in whaling, has a highly questionable scientific rule allowing it to do so. At the same time, small aboriginal communities that rely on whales for subsistence are also allowed non-zero whaling quotas. Iceland and Norway’s whaling industries, however, directly flout the International Whaling Commission’s (IWC) 1986 scientifically derived global moratorium on commercial whaling.
As explained by the nonprofit Whale and Dolphin Conservation (WDC), Iceland did not object to the moratorium at the time, but eventually left the IWC in 1992. It rejoined in 2002, but with a reservation against the ruling. Commercial whaling began in 2006 through this legally disputed reservation, and it kicked up a gear in 2009, with 2010 representing a grim peak.
It’s certainly good news that the minke whale hunt is now seemingly over, but fin whales continue to be slaughtered. In the last few years, it’s become apparent that most of the fin whale catch is sent to Japan, which highlights just how much work still needs to be done to end this outdated, cruel practice.