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Fin whale protection hopes dashed in Iceland

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Fin whale (Aqqa Rosing-Asvid / Visit Greenland)
Fin whale (Aqqa Rosing-Asvid / Visit Greenland)
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Despite previous indications that Iceland was winding down the licensing of fin whale hunts, the Nordic island nation has just granted its only remaining whaling company Hvalur a permit to harpoon up to 128 cetaceans during this year’s hunting season.

Fin whales are second in size only to blue whales and are listed as Vulnerable to Extinction on the IUCN Red List

UPDATE: Kristjan Loftsson, head of Iceland’s one whaling company Hvalur, told broadcaster RUV yesterday (14 June) that the government’s permission to resume hunting fin whales had been granted too late for this year – because his boat would not be ready. Iceland’s whaling season usually runs from now (mid-June) to September.

Growing concerns about cruelty in the 2022 hunt, with a government-commissioned report finding that harpooned whales could take up to two hours to die, had led to a temporary licence suspension last year. With the start of the season delayed, only 24 fin whales were slaughtered. 

Conservationists had hoped that this marked the end for a practice widely regarded as unnecessary, retrograde and cruel, but Iceland’s new food and fisheries minister Bjarkey Olsen Gunnarsdóttir said that while the decision to restart whaling operations was “not necessarily” in line with her or her Left-Green Movement party’s views, she was bound to respect existing legislation.

Japan and Norway

Japan has also allowed whale-hunting to resume this year after a lay-off, with a quota of 59, while another outlier, Norway, has never stood its own operations down.

“Norway has quietly got on with its annual slaughter in the background and has killed over 300 minke whales already this year,” says Ed Goodall, conservation project manager at the UK-based global charity Whale & Dolphin Conservation.

Such campaigners have pointed out that the Icelandic whalers had introduced no significant improvements in animal welfare to justify the decision to resume hunting. A recent report by Iceland’s food and veterinary authority Mast cast doubt on whether hunting large whales could ever meet animal-welfare objectives.

‘More fun’

“In 2024 it is astounding and shocking that this is still going on,” says Goodall. “In fact, it’s expanding. The desire of a few men to destroy nature, not in the name of culture and history, but commercial gain – when there is no market and it’s a loss-making industry. 

“One of the whalers in Iceland said recently that because it’s harder to find whales to hunt nowadays, it makes it more fun.”

“It’s hard to see hope for the existential issues of our time when we can’t consign this outdated industry to the dustbin of history. Now is the time for the world to unite against this small minority and push to bring whaling to an end for good.”

Also read: Fin whale washes up on Cornish beach, Examination of Dee Estuary fin whale, Valiant efforts to save fin whale stranded off Cornish coastline

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