Icelandic Whalers Draw Blood, Kill the First Fin Whale of the Season

In the face of international condemnation, yesterday Icelandic whalers kicked off the 2014 commercial whaling season by killing an endangered fin whale.

Fin whales are known as the "greyhound of the sea" for their speed.  They are the world’s second largest animal and are listed as an endangered species

Fin Whale NOAA 2.jpg

Despite the International Whaling Commission’s (IWC) ban on commercial whaling, Iceland has unilaterally allocated itself a license to kill at least 154 fin whales every year for the next five years.  All of the fin whale meat is then exported to Japan, in defiance of a ban on international trade in fin whales under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES).

Iceland has faced increasing international pressure for its rogue whaling. 

Former Secretary of Commerce Gary Locke certified Iceland in 2011 under the Pelly Amendment to the Fisherman’s Protective Act for its continued slaughter of whales. In a letter to President Obama, he said that “Iceland, by permitting its nationals to engage in commercial whaling and exporting endangered fin whale meat, is diminishing the effectiveness of the IWC conservation program.”

President Obama enacted diplomatic sanctions against Iceland in September 2011.

More recently, Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell certified that Iceland’s international trade in whale meat and products diminishes the effectiveness of the CITES.  In a press release, she said that “Iceland’s whaling activities undermine [] worldwide efforts to conserve whales.”

President Obama enacted another series of diplomatic directives against Iceland in April 2014. Notably, Iceland was not invited to participate in the “Our Ocean” Conference hosted this week by Secretary of State John Kerry in Washington, D.C. 

The squeeze isn’t just coming from diplomatic circles.  In response to the “Don’t Buy from Icelandic Whalers” campaign launched by NRDC, the Animal Welfare Institute and others, High Liner Foods – a leading North American seafood company – announced that it would not purchase products sourced from HB Grandi. 

HB Grandi is Iceland’s largest seafood company and has long-standing ties to Iceland’s whaling industry.

Whole Foods Market also cancelled contracts with a subsidiary of HB Grandi.  And Trader Joe’s issued a strong statement against commercial whaling, pledging also to undertake an audit of its supply chain to ensure it is not sourcing from companies linked to whaling operations in Iceland or elsewhere.

Given this increasing international censure, what will it take for Hvular – Iceland’s only fin whaling company – to finally call it quits?  Iceland is a remarkably progressive country in other areas, so why continue to risk its reputation by promoting commercial whaling and trade in whale meat in violation of international treaties?

I don’t have the answers but do know we will continue our fight to end commercial whaling in Iceland. Click here to make your voice heard.

Photo Credit: NOAA.

About the Authors

Taryn Kiekow Heimer

Senior Policy Analyst, Marine Mammal Protection Project, Land and Wildlife Program

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