Iceland Takes 154 Fin Whales Off the Target List, For Now

Well, it's not all bad news this week. In a rare public climb-down, Mr. Kristjan Loftsson, the plucky Icelandic fisheries magnate who drives his country's whaling policy, has announced his decision to "postpone" his annual hunt for 154 endangered fin whales until August or September.

Well, it's not all bad news this week. In a rare public climb-down, Mr. Kristjan Loftsson, the plucky Icelandic fisheries magnate who drives his country's whaling policy, has announced his decision to "postpone" his annual hunt for 154 endangered fin whales until August or September. This is good news for whales and perhaps also for Iceland, which has faced growing pressure in recent months from the U.S., European and other governments over Mr. Loftsson's quixotic efforts to resuscitate the international trade in whale products.

Icelanders you see, turn a cold shoulder to fin whale meat, for which there is no domestic market. (Click this text to download a PDF of "The Whale Meat Market" report)

Tourists seem to be looking for a unique Icelandic plate.

For those few Icelanders that still occasionally eat it, their palate prefers Minke whale meat, for which there is a small and steadily dwindling domestic market. Curiously there has been an unfortunate recent demand from tourists looking for a local experience dining out in Reykjavik, but more on that another time.

Nonetheless, Mr. Loftsson has killed close to 300 protected fin whales over the past two years, and, until his surprise announcement this week, had been expected to start killing another 150 early next month.

As grounds for his decision Mr. Loftsson cites the recent tsunami disaster in Japan -- a slow-motion horror show that continues to afflict the good people of Japan and their government in unprecedented and unimaginable ways -- as the reason for his decision.

According to him, the Japanese people are eating out less and processing facilities he uses were damaged by the disaster. It is neither unprecedented nor difficult to imagine a shrewd businessman like Mr. Loftsson using the tsunami tragedy as an opportunity to exit a failed enterprise. Published analyses by respected Icelandic economists have repeatedly shown whaling to be an economic loser.

Whatever his protestations, and past promises of massive economic benefits from whaling, the ground is shifting under Mr. Loftsson's feet. The growing threat of U.S. actions under the Pelly Amendment, continuing insistence by E.U. countries that Iceland abandon whaling as a precursor to E.U. membership, and concern over potential damage to Icelandic tourism and exports have changed the calculus for the Government of Iceland.

While 154 fin whales live to swim free for at least for a few months, Icelandic whalers will soon set sail to slaughter smaller Minke whales, the very same animals targeted by Iceland's booming whale watching industry. But increasing numbers of Icelanders are questioning the self-destructive economics of this hunt too. As Rannveig Grétarsdóttir, Chair of the Icelandic Whale Watching Association (Icewhale) put it as she welcomed this week's move: “We look forward to a time when whale watching is the only whale business in Iceland.”

-- PR

 

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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