Iceland’s only fin whaling company, Hvalur, just reported that it has canceled its annual summer hunt of fin whales, an endangered species. The company’s primary market for fin whale meat is Japan, but due to “endless obstacles” with respect to Japan’s health regulatory scheme, its director, Kristjan Loftsson, called off the entire hunt.
Loftsson told the Icelandic Monitor that Japan’s whale meat testing methods are archaic and make it infeasible for him to market and sell his products.
Wildlife activists gladly welcomed the news. Clare Perry, team leader of the Oceans Campaign for the Environmental Investigation Agency exclaimed that, “Obviously this is really great. [Hvalur has] been killing an increasing amount of fin whales and exporting thousands of tons of whale meat to Japan.”
However, Perry cautions that Loftsson may change his mind. She points out that in the past, the company has canceled a fin whale hunt only to later decide to go through with it. In 2011, when the tsunami hit Japan, Hvalur cancelled its hunt, only to resume whaling in 2013 – despite increasing international pressure to close his business. Perry notes that, “It seems that Kristjan Loftsson is maybe trying to put some pressure on Japan.”
Anti-commercial whaling activists claim that whaling is inhumane and hurts the conservation movement. Hunting fin whales is particularly controversial because the beautiful, endangered whales are the second-largest mammals on Earth.
In its defense, Iceland asserts that it hunts only a miniscule fraction of the approximately 20,000 fin whales found in that area of the North Atlantic. Whalers also claim that they keep Icelandic tradition alive while protecting fisheries from whales that eat too many fish.
Despite Iceland’s beliefs, its whaling industry remains controversial. Iceland, Japan and Norway face fierce objection and criticism from the overwhelming majority of members of the International Whaling Commission.
While the international trade in fin whale is prohibited, an exception to the ban provides that Iceland may continue to send whale meat to Japan.