What's the problem?

Whales are still being killed across the world’s oceans, despite an international ban on commercial whaling.

Why is it happening?

The International Whaling Commission banned commercial whaling in 1986 to try to conserve species on the brink of destruction. But over 1,000 whales – including endangered whales and some populations already depleted from centuries of overhunting – are still killed every year.

Japan has continued by claiming that whales are being killed for scientific research, and Iceland exploits loopholes in the ban in order to keep slaughtering whales for profit.

Why does it matter?

Over the years, commercial whaling has depleted a number of whale populations, some near extinction. With the adoption of rules to protect them, many whales have made a comeback, but their survival remains fragile.

And whaling – along with hazards such as ocean noise, ship strikes, pollution, unsustainable fishing practices, oil and gas development and climate change – continues to be a threat to these intelligent creatures who play a significant role in ocean ecosystems.

What can be done?

Despite an international moratorium on commercial whaling, Iceland’s whaling has dramatically increased in recent years. In 2010 alone, Icelandic whalers killed hundreds of whales – including endangered fin whales – and shipped more than 750 tons of whale meat and products to Japan, whose market is already glutted with whale meat from its own "scientific research whaling" program.

In the past, the U.S. has taken the diplomatic route in an attempt to negotiate with Iceland. And the U.S. government recently led a joint demarche joined by 10 other nations. This is a positive first step, but strong words and diplomatic pressure are clearly not enough to curtail Iceland’s illegal whaling. Now is the time to put pressure on Iceland’s illegal whaling industry by imposing targeted trade sanctions.

NRDC and over a dozen other conservation groups recently petitioned the Obama administration to take strong action against Iceland under the Pelly Amendment to the Fisherman’s Protective Act. The Amendment allows the President to impose trade sanctions against a country that is "diminishing the effectiveness" of conservation agreements – in Iceland’s case, the whaling moratorium and another international treaty that prohibits trade in endangered species. The Pelly petition identifies several Icelandic companies as potential targets for trade sanctions, including major seafood industry players that are directly tied to Iceland’s whaling industry.

The United States has a unique opportunity to engage in efforts outside of the IWC that will encourage Iceland to end the killing of whales for commercial purposes. Taking these actions against Iceland is consistent with the United States’ historic role as a global leader in whale conservation.

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