Iceland suspends annual whaling

Iceland suspends annual whaling

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The Icelandic government has decreed the suspension of annual whaling until 31 Augustor, expressing concern for the welfare of cetaceans. A decision welcomed by environmentalists and animal rights defenders who are hoping for an end to the controversial practice. “I have taken the decision to suspend whaling” until August 31, said the Minister of Food Svandis Svavarsdottirin the wake of a government-commissioned report that the hunt does not comply with Icelandic animal welfare law.

“If the government and the concessionaires cannot guarantee the welfare requirements, these activities have no future”, the minister envisaged. For Humane Society International the measure represents “a milestone in the compassionate conservation of whales”. Shocking videos broadcast by the veterinary authority showed the agony of a whale as it was hunted for five hours. A recent monitoring by the Icelandic Veterinary and Food Authority of fin whale hunting found that killing the animals takes too long, breaking the main objectives of the animal welfare law.

There is only one whaling company left in Iceland – Hvalur – and its license to hunt fin whales expires at the end of 2023. Another company closed its business permanently in 2020, explaining that it was no longer profitable. The whaling season runs from mid-June to mid-September. Taking into account the ministerial suspension until August 31, Hvalur will hardly start the 2023 season so late, for just two weeks. The annual quotas authorize the killing of 209 fin whales – the second longest marine mammal after the blue whale – and 217 minke whales, one of the smallest species. But catches have dropped sharply in recent years due to the declining market for whale meat.

“There is no humane way to kill a whale at sea, so we urge the authorities to make this provision a permanent ban”, said the executive director for Europe of the Humane Society International, Ruud Tombrock, addressing the Reykjavik government. Iceland, Norway and Japan are the only countries in the world that have continued to hunt whales despite harsh criticism from conservationists and animal rights advocates.

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