As September drew to an end, so did whaling in Iceland, but for how long?

2013 was a grim year, with a decrease in minke whales killed offset by a vast increase in the number of fin whales killed.There are two types of whaling in Iceland.

These days, minke whaling is carried out primarily by one vessel, Hrafnreyður KÓ-100.

The number of whales killed each season for the small Icelandic whale meat market has dropped from 58 in 2011, to 52 in 2012 and 35 this year.

Less than 5% of Icelanders regularly eat whale meat and thanks to IFAW’s “Meet Us Don’t Eat Us” and “Whale Friendly Restaurants” initiatives in the country, the percentage of tourists eating whale meat has dropped from around 40% to around 20%.

SEE ALSO: "Whale friendly" is the way forward for Icelandic tourism

Not only are sales down for the minke whalers, but it looks like their costs are up. Facing an extended whale watching sanctuary and the displeasure of the Icelandic tourism community, this year the minke whalers kept out of the enormous Faxafloi bay outside Reykjavik, the capital.

They motored around Iceland’s western fjords and started to worry the whale watchers in the north of Iceland between Akureyri  and Husavik – the northern home of Icelandic whale watching. Not surprisingly, their presence there was also hotly contested by whale watching companies.

So as the winter storms start hitting Iceland, we will have to wait and see if the whalers decide it is worth enduring further international and national criticism to go out and cruelly kill minke whales for a steadily declining market that must yield little or no financial return…

Fin whales are the second species hunted and cruelly killed in Iceland.

In recent years fin whales have only been hunted by one operator. He is Kristjan Loftsson, the son of a whaler who made a fortune from whaling in the 60s, 70s and 80s - before the vast majority of the world (including Iceland) saw sense and stopped killing whales.

Mr Loftsson started killing fin whales again in 2009. No-one was really sure why he started again because fin whale meat is not eaten in Iceland, and the only other place international trade laws allow him to sell the meat is Japan, and they don’t seem overly keen to buy fin whale meat from him.

So it wasn’t a surprise when Mr Loftsson didn’t go fin whaling in 2011 and 2012. But it was a surprise when he sent his ships out to kill the second largest whale in the world again last June.

As of the end of September his two 1940s steam-driven whaling boats had dragged 134 fin whales back to his whaling station just outside Reykjavik.

But it’s not been plain sailing for Mr Loftsson this season.

He was used to the idea of there being celebrations when he brought in the first fin whale of the season. Instead of showing a proud Mr Loftsson flensing (cutting up) his first whale, the newspapers chose to cover the small crowd of demonstrators on the hill above the station holding the banner: “What’s the point in Icelandic whaling?”

Later in the season one of his minority shareholders was quoted in the national newspapers as being very concerned that the fin whaling was losing money and depreciating the value of the company shares.

Loftsson's worst moment came in July when a consignment of his fin whale meat was rejected by the port of Rotterdam which wanted nothing to do with his cruel and controversial trade.

Not only that but he had to see photos plastered all over the TV and newspapers of a whale watching boat greeting the returning whale meat with enormous pointing hands and, once again, the message “What’s the point in Icelandic whaling?”

Rotterdam was closed to his trade and so his export options seem to be dwindling.

2013 was a grim year for us with a decrease in minke whales killed offset by a vast increase in the number of fin whales killed. 

However, there does seem to have been a sea change in Icelandic attitudes towards this so-called industry and more and more people are asking themselves and in public, “what is the point of Icelandic whaling?”

--RM

IFAW will continue to work closely with the whale watching and tourism sector and supportive MPs over the winter months. Stay tuned!

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Experts

Dr. Maria (Masha) N. Vorontsova, Regional Director, Russia & CIS
Regional Director, Russia & CIS
Dr. Ralf (Perry) Sonntag, Country Director, Germany
Country Director, Germany
Isabel McCrea, Regional Director, Oceania
Regional Director, Oceania
IFAW Japan Representative
IFAW Japan Representative
Patrick Ramage, Program Director, Whales
Program Director, Whales
Robbie Marsland, Regional Director, United Kingdom
Regional Director, United Kingdom