The 2015 fin whale hunting season begins in Iceland
Iceland’s fin whaling season has begun with the first boats leaving harbour overnight to hunt for the world’s second largest species of whale.
Iceland’s lone whaling operator, Kristjan Loftsson, usually begins fin whaling on or around Iceland’s National Day of June 17 but this year the departure has been delayed, apparently because of a strike by veterinary inspectors.
The vessel Winter Bay, which is registered in Saint Kitts and Nevis, had also been stuck in Hafnarfjordur harbour in Iceland for several weeks due to serious technical problems.
The 2015 minke whaling season has already begun but has also faced delays and difficulties because of the veterinary inspectors’ strike.
According to the Minke Whalers’ Association and the Fisheries Directorate websites, 14 minke whales have so far been killed.
Iceland’s own kill quotas allow whalers to harpoon up to 229 minke whales in a season. A quota of 239 was issued for last year but only around 10% of the catch limit, 24 minkes, were killed.
This year’s catch limit for fin whaling is 154. Last year Iceland’s whalers took 137 fin whales, the meat from which is currently in transit to Japan.
The shipment of 1,700 tonnes is believed to be the entire stock from last summer’s fin whaling season. It was loaded onto a cargo vessel that is currently moored in Tromso, Norway.
Last year, the freighter Alma made the voyage from Iceland to Japan carrying 2,000 tonnes of whale meat, sailing south of the Cape of Good Hope, rather than through the Mediterranean and the Suez Canal, which is a much shorter route.
This was to avoid docking anywhere along the way following earlier shipments of whale meat being returned after international ports rejected their cargos.
Patrick Ramage, Global Whale Programme Director for the International Fund for Animal Welfare ( IFAW) says: “It is very disappointing to see Mr Loftsson pressing ahead with the slaughter of more endangered fin whales.
“Icelanders don’t even eat fin whale meat yet these whales continue to be killed because of the actions of one businessman intent on resuscitating the whale meat trade.
“At the same time as more of these magnificent animals are being harpooned, last year’s unused supply of fin whale meat is struggling on its long and circuitous route to Japan.
“This enterprise will prove extremely costly not just to Mr Loftsson but also to Iceland’s international reputation.”
Whale watching is now one of the top tourist attractions in Iceland, generating around £10 million annually and attracting more than 200,000 tourists each year, proving that whales are worth far more to the Icelandic economy alive than dead.
In partnership with Icelandic whale watching coalition Icewhale, IFAW promotes responsible whale watching as an alternative to the cruelty of whaling. It opposes all commercial whaling as being inherently cruel as it says there is no humane way to kill a whale.
It encourages tourists to avoid eating whale meat and works with Icelandic restaurants, promoting those that choose not to serve whale meat through a ‘whale friendly’ restaurants campaign.
Recent Gallup polling found only around 3% of Icelanders claim to regularly eat whale meat. The percentage of tourists who say they have tasted whale meat has more than halved over the last five years from 40% in 2009 to 18% in 2014.
Reykjavik City Council has passed a cross-party resolution calling on the minister of fisheries to create an enlarged sanctuary for whales in Faxafloi Bay.
Last September, the 28 member states of the European Union led a coalition including the US, Australia, Brazil, Israel and New Zealand in a political demarche stating their “strong opposition to Iceland’s continuing and increased harvest of whales…and to its ongoing international trade in whale products.”