Fin Whales Safe from Iceland Hunt, Minke Whales Not So Lucky

Endangered fin whales can breathe a huge sigh of relief: the director of Iceland's only fin whaling company said that his fleet would not hunt fin whales again this year because of difficulties exporting the whale meat to Japan.

This is the second year in a row that fin whaling has been suspended in Iceland.

A fin whale exhaling, off Greenland. Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons

In an interview with Icelandic media, Kristján Loftsson (head of Hvalur hf, Iceland's fin whaling company) announced there would be no hunting of endangered fin whales this summer due to the “red tape” he must endure when trying to sell Icelandic whale meat in Japan. Notably, Loftsson has suspended fin whaling in the past (after the 2011 tsunami in Japan) only to resume two years later.

Since 2006, Icelandic whalers have killed over 700 endangered fin whales and shipped over 7,200 metric tons of fin whale products to Japan. In 2015 (the last year Loftsson’s fleet hunted), 155 endangered fin whales were killed—the highest number of fin whale deaths since the global commercial whaling moratorium took effect in 1986.

Cancelling the hunt of fin whales is great news for whales and whale lovers alike!

Unfortunately, the good news doesn’t extend to all whales in Iceland: more minke whales will be killed this year to satiate the curiosity of tourists.

According to media reports, a significant demand by tourists for “traditional” minke whale meat in Icelandic restaurants means more minke whales will be hunted. Based on a government quota, as many as 264 minke whales could be killed in Iceland this year. 30 minke whales were killed in 2015 and 46 were killed in 2016.

A minke whale among the fjords in Husavik Bay, Iceland. Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons

Restaurants buy about 60% of the minke whale meat sold in Iceland, and about 100 restaurants in Iceland serve it.  A large proportion of minke whale meat is consumed by tourists visiting Iceland—the largest proportion of whom are from the United States and United Kingdom.

The irony, of course, is that whale watching is one of the top tourist attractions in Iceland and Icelandic support for whaling and consumption of whale meat is at an all-time low.

It’s time to end commercial whaling in Iceland. Tourists can do their part by refusing to eat whale meat. And we all can do our part as consumers by refusing to buy from seafood companies linked to Icelandic whaling.

In the meantime, let’s celebrate the cancellation of this year’s fin whale hunt and encourage Mr. Loftsson to end fin whaling for good.

About the Authors

Taryn Kiekow Heimer

Deputy Director, Marine Mammal Protection Project, Nature Program

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