A Win for the Whales: Iceland Stops Fin Whaling

Endangered fin whales may once again be spared from Iceland’s harpoons.  According to media reports, Iceland will suspend its fin whale hunt in 2012. Fin whales are the world’s second largest animal and are listed as an endangered species.

This is the second year in a row fin whales have avoided slaughter in Iceland.  In 2011, Iceland postponed its fin whale season citing a lack of demand for fin whale meat in Japan after the tsunami.  This year, media reports indicate that fin whaling giant Kristjan Loftsson – the man responsible for all of Iceland’s fin whaling – failed to reach collective agreement with the Association of Icelandic Fishermen on salaries and conditions for deckhands. 

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Although fin whales face a welcome reprieve this year, Iceland has killed 280 endangered fin whales and hundreds of minke whales since it resumed whaling in 2006 in violation of the moratorium on commercial whaling. 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 International Whaling Commission’s Scientific Committee (the world’s foremost experts on whales) considers sustainable for the species’ survival. 

NRDC and eighteen other NGOs responded to Iceland’s renegade whaling in December 2010 by filing a petition under the Pelly Amendment to the Fisherman’s Protective Act urging the Secretaries of Commerce and Interior to certify and enact sanctions against Iceland.

Former Secretary of Commerce Gary Locke responded to our petition in July 2011 by certifying Iceland for its continued slaughter of whales. In a letter to President Obama, he said that 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.”

Led by renowned actor and marine mammal activist Pierce Brosnan, NRDC urged President Obama to impose tough sanctions against Iceland for its rogue whaling. And NRDC Members and activists sent over 100,000 messages to President Obama. 

President Obama enacted diplomatic sanctions against Iceland in September 2011, finding that “Iceland's actions threaten the conservation status of an endangered species and undermine multilateral efforts to ensure greater worldwide protection for whales.”

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 had hoped 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 2011 tsunami.

Consider this a win for endangered fin whales.

Photo credit: NOAA

About the Authors

Taryn Kiekow Heimer

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

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