Obama Administration lets Iceland know the tides are turning for whales

Hopefully this fin whale will be swimming free in Icelandic waters for years to come.On the heels of an unbelievable victory at the International Court of Justice (ICJ) this past Monday, which saw a panel of judges condemn Japan’s “scientific” whaling program in Antarctica as nothing more than commercial whaling in disguise, President Obama has announced strong diplomatic measures against Iceland over its continued slaughter of whales and trade in their meat. Hopefully Icelandic whalers will take the hint from the international community and the ICJ ruling and cease the inhumane and unsustainable practice of commercial whaling. 

SEE ALSO: Victory for whales at the International Court of Justice

The endangered fin whale – one of the world’s largest and most threatened marine mammal species – is primarily hunted by the Icelandic whaling company Hvalur hf, which is owned by millionaire Kristjan Loftsson.

Although there had been no whaling in Iceland since 2011, Loftsson singlehandedly re-implemented the whale hunt last year, having sent his whaling fleet out in June and to ultimately kill 134 fin whales that summer. Then, in December last year, the Icelandic government issued new catch limits which would allow 229 minke whales and 154 endangered fin whales to be harpooned each year for the next five years.

This past February, in the face of Loftsson’s refusal to stop his cruel hobby and the Icelandic government’s unwillingness to put an end to this bloody practice, US Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell issued a formal certification under the United States’ Pelly Amendment to the Fisherman’s Protective Act against Iceland for its increased commercial whaling practices and international trade in whale products.

The Certification stands as an official acknowledgement by the United States that Iceland’s current fin whaling practices are diminishing the effectiveness of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES). The US has previously certified Iceland for undermining the International Whaling Commission (IWC) by setting its own commercial whaling quotas outside of the IWC.

Last week, with President Obama’s impending announcement hanging over his head, IFAW learned that Loftsson was attempting to get his stocks of whale meat out of Iceland by loading up 2,000 tons of stockpiled fin whale meat onto a cargo vessel bound for Japan.

The freezer ship has since left port, and due to the events of last summer when both ports and carriers in Europe publicly rejected the whale meat trade and the ships sent back to Iceland, the ship is furtively making a circuitous route to Japan that would not bring it into contact with any of these whale friendly ports. In recent years, Loftsson has regularly exported relatively small amounts of fin whale meat to his own company in Japan, but has yet to find much demand for the meat on the Japanese market. 

The measures set forth by the Obama Administration this week:

  • direct US agencies to raise concerns about Iceland's commercial whaling and trade in fin whale meat and products in any meetings with Icelandic officials and in appropriate CITES venues.

  • require that US officials reexamine bilateral cooperation projects with Iceland in light of their fin whaling and trade. In addition; 

In addition;

  • senior officials in the US government must evaluate any visits to Iceland in light of Iceland’s resumption of fin whaling.
  • The measures also include the promise that the government will continue to monitor the companies that engage in whaling and trade in fin whale, and
  • all relevant agencies are required to report back to the President in six months on the status of whaling in that country and continue to explore options for additional measures.  

President Obama has also charged relevant agencies with encouraging Iceland to develop and expand measures that increase economic opportunities for the nonlethal uses of whales in Iceland, such as responsible whale watching activities and educational and scientific research activities that contribute to the conservation of whales, a move that IFAW fully supports as the future of Iceland and whales.    

For many years IFAW has worked alongside Icelandic whale watch operators to promote whale watching as a humane and profitable alternative to the cruelty of whaling. Iceland is now one of Europe’s top destinations for whale watching, attracting 175,000 whale watchers annually.

IFAW also works to reach tourists to Iceland to educate them about which restaurants are “whale friendly” and do not sell whale meat. IFAW’s “Meet US, Don’t Eat Us” campaign has proven to be very popular with tourists, and helps them be certain that they are not supporting and promoting commercial whaling in Iceland by their purchases.    

In May of last year IFAW held briefing on Capitol Hill and with the Administration, featuring talks by IFAW experts and Icelandic partners to raise awareness of the threat of ongoing whaling in Iceland and sustainable options such as tourism. 

We hope that the Government of Iceland will fully embrace the opportunity to join the 21stcentury in protecting and admiring whales for their intrinsic value, for the joy they bring us, and as a sustainable economic opportunity for the country. 

--BA

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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