Icelandic whaling in the balance?

A humpback whale dives next to the Elding Whale Watch vessel in Iceland. Whale Watching companies are speaking out against whaling as it hurts the very whales they rely on for their living.It’s been interesting times for those of us keeping an eye on the whaling situation in Iceland. 

Two species of whales have been killed in Iceland in recent times - fin whales were last killed almost three years ago, and the killing season for minke whales began again in mid-May.

Fin whaling is due to start on June 8, but there have been some recent developments.

The announcement that fin whaling was going to start again was met by strong criticism from the major tourism organisations and whale watching communities in Iceland. 

At the same time, the US government appears to be weighing up the possibility of escalating its diplomatic pressure if the lone Icelandic fin whaler Kristjan Loftsson recommences his one-man crusade to tarnish Iceland’s international reputation. 

How long will he be allowed to bring Iceland into disrepute in this way – this is the question that is being asked in Reykjavik.

At the same time, the minke whalers are quoted in the press as saying their industry is doomed because of a new regulation that came into force at midnight on May 21. 

The regulation extends the whale sanctuary in Faxafloi bay to ensure that whales cannot be killed in sight of the whale watchers.

“That’s not fair”, say the whalers, “we hunt 80% of our whales in that region.” Which is a telling admission that they kill the very whales that the whale watchers depend upon. 

The new regulation came out of a government-commissioned committee. This was the focus of the last public event we held at the end of an Icelandic research season carried out by our non-invasive whale research vessel Song of the Whale last summer.

The International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) representative in Iceland presented to the committee on the need for the sanctuary as well as explaining about the unacceptable cruelty of whaling.

IFAW supporters around the world also emailed the government when the committee said it needed to take into account Iceland’s international reputation.

The government-commissioned committee, the tourism industry, the whale watchers and IFAW all called for a larger whale sanctuary than the regulation introduced. 

It seems that the out-going government was trying to be fair to both sides – ie, making sure neither was happy.

Whatever happens, IFAW will continue to work positively with the new Icelandic government. 

We will be particularly interested to explore the findings of the government-commissioned committee on the cruelty issues around killing whales and, if necessary, the need to extend the new sanctuary if it is still seen as a threat to the growing whale watching industry.


For information on which countries still engage in commercial whaling, visit our campaign page.

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Azzedine Downes,IFAW President and CEO
President and Chief Executive Officer
Beth Allgood, Country Director, United States
Country Director, United States
Cynthia Milburn, Director, Animal Welfare Outreach & Education
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Dr. Maria (Masha) N. Vorontsova, Senior Advisor to the IFAW Marine Conservation
Senior Advisor to the IFAW Marine Conservation Program
Faye Cuevas, Esq.
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Grace Ge Gabriel, Regional Director, Asia
Regional Director, Asia
Jason Bell, Vice President for Conservation and Animal Welfare
Vice President for Conservation and Animal Welfare
Matt Collis, Director, International Policy
Director, International Policy
Patrick Ramage, Program Director, Whales
Program Director, Marine Conservation
Sonja Van Tichelen, Vice President of International Operations
Vice President of International Operations
Staci McLennan, Director, EU Office
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Tania McCrea-Steele, Project Lead, Global Wildlife Cybercrime
Project Lead, Global Wildlife Cybercrime