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Humpback whale. Image: Christopher Swann

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Record killing and trade of fin whales in Iceland on a par with rhino and elephant poaching

As Iceland’s whaling season officially ends this weekit’s time to take stock.  A total of 184 whales (155 fin whales and 29 minke whales)  have been harpooned this year in the waters around Iceland.

That fin whale total is the largest since the international whaling moratorium came into effect in 1986 and is the first time that Iceland’s self-allocated fin whale quota has been fully utilized – or rather, exceeded: by one whale. This year’s quota was 154, but Iceland’s sole fin whaler, Kristjan Loftsson, was permitted to ‘carry over’ a certain percentage of any unused quota from last year’s hunt, which itself saw 137 fin whales killed.

This record slaughter – in defiance of the worldwide ban on commercial whaling – represents an escalation in the hunts. Whilst WDC opposes the killing of ANY whale for ANY reason, it is worth mentioning here that the number of fin whales taken this year is around three times as many as IWC (International Whaling Commission) experts would say was theoretically ‘sustainable’ – leading to fears that this level of removal could harm local fin whale populations. And of course, mere numbers fail to reveal the sheer terror and agony felt by each individual whale harpooned. There is, after all, no humane way to kill a whale at sea.

It is also worth restating that the fin whale – the second largest animal on Earth – is listed as endangered by the IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature). Our belief is that this current level of slaughter of fin whales is on a par with the hunting and trade of other endangered species, including poaching of elephants and rhinos.

This escalation of the hunts is matched only by an escalation in trade.  In May 2014, Loftsson exported 2,000 tonnes of fin whale meat to Japan aboard the Alma, taking a circuitous route via the tip of Africa. In August this year, another vessel chartered by Loftsson, the Winter Bay, travelled via the North East Passage to Japan with her cargo of 1800 tonnes of whale meat. 

At present, almost all of the fin whale meat is exported to Japan – although we also reported in August on the seizure of tinned fin whale curry, discovered on sale illegally in Hong Kong, so it is difficult to predict where else the meat will turn up and whether Loftsson will also try to exploit Iceland’s domestic market. This latter option is unlikely as demand for whale meat from Icelanders continues to decline and currently only 1.7% of Icelanders regularly consume whale meat.

Nonetheless, we will remain vigilant to any indication that fin whale meat is being marketed domestically. We will continue to lobby conservation-minded governments to speak out loudly against Iceland’s whaling. Loftsson’s success this summer in shipping hundreds of tonnes of whale meat via Arctic waters will no doubt embolden him to try this route again, so we will continue to work towards closing the loopholes that allow whaling nations such as Iceland, Norway and Japan to legally trade meat from an endangered species with each other. 

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About Vanessa Williams-Grey

Policy manager - Stop Whaling and Responsible Whale Watching