Icelandic fin whaling - an expensive and dangerous hobby, in more ways than one

A whaling ship and harpoon used to hunt fin whales in Hvalfjordur, Iceland.It’s been a busy week or so for those following the dying whaling industry in Iceland.  The lone Icelandic fin whaler, Kristjan Loftsson’s boats last killed a fin whale almost three years ago in 2010. At the beginning of May he announced plans to send his boats out for another season of killing of this endangered species.

No-one really knows why he wants to continue spending a large part of his considerable fortune on killing whales. When he first recommenced whaling in 2009 he said he would make US $40 million a year from these bloody efforts. Although his boats killed 273 fin whales in 2009 and 2010 he still hasn’t sold all the meat to Japan and he remains resolutely quiet about whether he is even breaking even from the whaling.

All this whale killing simply appears to be the hobby of a successful businessman who has a fondness for an industry that captures what he thinks is a sense of being Icelandic. 

If so, it’s an expensive and cruel hobby that threatens the existence of the world’s second largest whale. It also threatens to drive a damaging wedge between Iceland and potential international allies. The response to his recent announcement within Iceland also shows that he is driving a wedge between the tiny number of people who make a living from whaling and those organisations that represent the enormous tourism and whale watching industry.

The USA and the countries in the EU have long made it clear they are opposed to fin whaling in Iceland. With the USA having existing diplomatic sanctions in place because of past Icelandic fin whaling. 

As Mr Loftsson’s boats have remained in their expensive moorings for the past two years, those sanctions have been equally restrained.

However, the recent threat to return the whaling boats to sea is being described in Washington DC as a gauntlet thrown down to the US government.

The New York Times has certainly noticed this, and that outlet picked the news up as a worrying development for at least one of Iceland’s national newspapers.

Mr Loftsson’s activities are also beginning to attract public opposition from those in Iceland who are deeply worried about the impact fin whaling has on Iceland’s ability to build its growing tourism industry. 

The day after Mr Loftsson’s announcement four Icelandic organisations, Icewhale, the Travel Industry Association, the Icelandic Tourism Association and the Icelandic Animal Welfare Association, came out against the threat to Iceland’s national and international interests.

And then, Frettabladid, one of the largest national newspapers, published an editorial condemning the fin whaling and demanding the activity should stop.

It is becoming evident that not everyone in Iceland sees themselves partly defined as Icelandic by supporting whaling…

The International Fund for Animal Welfare had a team in Washington DC last week briefing politicians on Icelandic whaling and how best to support Iceland’s tourism sector in the wake of Mr Loftson’s announcement.

We work very closely with the tourism and whale watching operators on the ground across Iceland and we all are waiting to see what happens next. 

Mr Loftsson has postponed whaling for the past two years. He has had industrial disputes with his boat crews and he has spoken about how the Japanese market is tenuous, fragile and discouraging.

The spotlight is now firmly on him. 

This is not about Iceland’s right to go whaling; this is about whether one man wants to risk Iceland’s national and international interests by doggedly pursuing an outdated, old fashioned, cruel and unnecessary hobby. 


For more information about our efforts to end commercial whaling in Iceland, visit our campaign page.

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Azzedine Downes,IFAW President and CEO
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