U.S. Censures Iceland for Killing Whales


U.S. Imposes Diplomatic Sanctions against Iceland for Killing Whales

President Obama took important steps today to sanction Iceland for its renegade whaling but should have gone further.  The President directed federal agencies to take actions to encourage Iceland to end commercial whaling, including evaluating the propriety of official visits to Iceland and authorizing the State Department to tie our cooperation in Arctic projects to the Icelandic Government changing its whaling policy. Click here to read the full list of available sanctions.

Unfortunately, President Obama failed to impose more effective measures through targeted economic sanctions.  Without hard-hitting sanctions, Iceland may not feel enough pressure to stop whaling.



Last July, in response to a petition filed by NRDC and 18 other NGOs, then Secretary of Commerce Gary Locke declared that Iceland’s whaling activities diminish the effectiveness of the International Whaling Commission (IWC).  Today President Obama affirmed that decision, finding “Iceland's actions threaten the conservation status of an endangered species and undermine multilateral efforts to ensure greater worldwide protection for whales.” 

NRDC applauds this finding and supports the use of sanctions, but thinks the President should have done more.

Over 100,000 NRDC members and activists wrote to President Obama in support of targeted sanctions against specific seafood companies with known ties to Iceland’s whaling industry. 

And in a letter to President Obama, Congress encouraged the imposition of tough sanctions against Iceland: “Employing the full breadth of tools available…, including economic sanctions against Iceland’s whaling interests, will send a clear signal of the negative consequences of commercial whaling.”

President Obama’s failure to heed this advice is a missed opportunity for global leadership.  We know that tough sanctions are necessary because diplomacy has failed time after time to stop the senseless slaughter of whales. 

Although the U.S. censured Iceland for its rogue whaling back in 2004 – and recently led 11 nations in a joint demarche against Iceland in March 2011 – it has until now pursued only diplomatic solutions rather than economic sanctions.

Iceland has failed to respond.

In defiance of the international ban on commercial whaling, Iceland has ramped up its renegade whaling in recent years by killing both endangered fin and minke whales – threatening the very existence of species that are teetering on the brink of extinction.   In 2010 alone, Icelandic whalers killed 148 endangered fin and 60 minke whales.  And in 2009, Iceland dramatically increased its self-allocated fin whale quota to 150 animals a year – more than three times the catch limit that the IWC’s Scientific Committee (considered the world’s foremost experts on whales) considers sustainable for the species’ survival. 

Unlike countries that rely on whale meat for subsistence purposes, Iceland has only a limited domestic market for minke whales, and its people have not traditionally eaten fin whales.   Iceland has increased its whaling hoping to find a profitable market in Japan – whose warehouses are already glutted with thousands of tons of excess whale meat from its own suspect “scientific whaling” program and whose demand for whale meat is at an all-time low following the devastating earthquake and tsunami.

Although Iceland suspended its fin whale hunt this year – due to the earthquake and tsunami in Japan– it currently plans to resume the hunt in 2012.  Moreover, as President Obama recognized, “Icelandic nationals continue to hunt minke whales commercially and Iceland’s exports of whale meat to Japan reportedly increased significantly in both March and April 2011.

That’s why we will continue to push for targeted sanctions against specific Icelandic companies tied to the whaling industry should diplomacy fail again.

We appreciate the President’s direction that federal agencies “keep the situation under review” and report back in 6 months or “immediately upon the resumption of fin whaling by Icelandic nationals.”  We believe this sends a message that the United States will immediately reconsider a stronger response should Iceland resume fin whaling. 

Although we believe the President should have imposed tougher sanctions now, his actions today confirm that the United States is prepared to intensify its response if the measures directed today prove inadequate. 

We strongly urge the Obama administration to respond with hard-hitting sanctions should Iceland resume its slaughter of fin whales next season.

We will stay vigilant.  The whales are counting on us.

 Photo credits: NOAA