Cetacean Society International

Whales Alive! - Vol. XII No. 4 - October 2003

Iceland Resumes Whaling

By Kate O'Connell, CSI Board

On the 6th of August, less than two months after the close of the International Whaling Commission (IWC) meeting, the Icelandic Ministry of Fisheries announced that it would resume whaling after a 14 year hiatus. Iceland had only recently rejoined the IWC last year with a reservation to the moratorium; seventeen countries have filed formal objections to Iceland's refusal to recognize the ban, while two refuse to even acknowledge Iceland as a voting member.

The Icelandic Marine Research Institute's (MRI) plan called for the kill of 38 minke whales during the months of August and September, under the guise of scientific research. Iceland's decision to whale defies recent international efforts to strengthen conservation measures for whales in the IWC and worldwide. The announcement came despite strong criticism of Iceland by both scientists and member countries of the IWC at the commission's recent meeting in Berlin, Germany in June (see Whales Alive! Vol. XII No. 3). A resolution was passed calling on Iceland not to undertake its proposed scientific whale kill.

Icelandic whalers killed their first minke whale on August 18th. Despite the global ban on commercial whaling imposed by the International Whaling Commission (IWC) in 1986, the Ministry acknowledged that whale products taken in the hunt will be sold on the domestic market. Within hours of the first kill, full page ads were running in the Icelandic daily, Frettabladid, touting whale meat for sale. Soon after, an ad ran offering consumers such whale meat recipe ideas as "Whale Pepper Steak" and "Whale with wasabi".

Many governments and conservation organizations have expressed concern that Iceland, home to one of the fastest growing whale watch industries in the world, would feel a backlash effect against the whaling decision, and would suffer from a decline in tourism. In 2002, more than 62,000 tourists went whale watching in Iceland, roughly one third of all visitors to the country. Tourism represents an important component of the Icelandic national economy, with some 17 percent of national income based on tourism. By late September, more than 40 European tour operators had signed a statement of protest against the whaling decision, and the number of protests seems primed to continue.

The whaling versus whale-watching drama in Iceland was heightened when one of the whaling boats was spotted hunting in an area normally reserved for whale watching. On the 15th of September, Morgunbladid (the largest Icelandic daily newspaper) reported that Ásbjörn Björgvinsson of the Icelandic Whale Watch Association had protested the incursion of the whaling vessel Nirði KÓ into waters at around 64.13 North, 22.39 West. The MRI issued a counter-statement two days later saying that their intent was to avoid whale watching areas, but also complaining that two of the whale watch vessels, the Hafsúlunnar KE and the Gests KE had been getting in the way of the whalers, as well as taking photos of the hunt!

In early September, 23 nations presented a demarche, an official letter of diplomatic action, to the Government of Iceland calling on it to cease whaling. The demarche was issued by the UK's Ambassador to Iceland on behalf of 23 countries, including the US. The demarche called Iceland's actions as "unjustified and unnecessary", and expressed firm opposition to the decision by Iceland to undertake lethal scientific research on minke whales. The demarche also reminded Iceland that in conducting scientific whaling it had acted against the will of the International Whaling Commission (IWC).

As mentioned above, the IWC had adopted a resolution at its 2003 Annual Meeting stating that "special permit whaling represents an act contrary to the spirit of the IWC moratorium on commercial whaling". The resolution goes on to urge any country conducting or planning to conduct Special Permit whaling to terminate, or not to begin, such activities.

By the time September came to a close, 36 out of the proposed 38 minke whales had been killed. Iceland continues to face strong opposition to its hunt, not least of which is the potential for economic sanctions to be taken against it by the US. In early August, Cetacean Society International joined on to a letter headed by the Humane Society of the US, which called on the US government to look into the possible certification of Iceland under the Pelly Ammendment for diminishing the effectiveness of the IWC. Various US government agencies, including the State and Commerce Departments, are currently engaged in that review.

The Icelandic whale hunt is not the only controversial whale kill. The annual Norwegian whale hunt has also ended, with 31 whaling boats have taken 645 whales since late last spring, less that this year's quota of 711.

According to the Norwegian daily newspaper, Aftenposten, sales of whale products have been disappointing, with fewer wholesalers willing to buy or process the whale meat. According to the paper the meat is not as popular with Norwegian consumers as it once was and environmental concerns have also hit sales. The article also detailed how whalers are blaming Norwegian authorities for the drop in sales. On the same day that the annual hunt began, officials from Norway's equivalent of the Food & Drug Administration (SNT) issued warnings that whale meat could contain unacceptable levels of mercury. This follows on from a similar warning about whale blubber issued the previous year.

It is clear that both the Norwegian hunt and the Icelandic hunt are hoping to open up an export market to Japan. Reports in the media from both countries have indicated that the two have now signed an agreement under which DNA analysis of their whale meat will be done by the Icelandic MRI, with an aim to establish a "whale product registry" that can provide the basis of supposedly traceable sales of whale meat to Japan. The agreement underscores concerns that have been raised by conservationists in that the proposed "policing" of the whale products will not be open to any kind of public scrutiny but rather handled by the whaling nations themselves...akin to allowing a fox to guard the hen house!

Whaling nations have continued to defy world opinion, and the International Whaling Commission ban on commercial whaling. Iceland has now joined Norway and Japan in showing blatant disregard for international law.

Please help the whales by contacting the following and making your objections to the Icelandic and Norwegian whale hunts known!! Also, as kids head back to school, contact your local school lunch program and ask if they purchase Icelandic or Norwegian fish products. Please contact CSI to let us know what you find out.

Helgi Ágústsson, Ambassador
Embassy of Iceland
1156 15th Street N.W., Suite 1200
Washington DC 20005-1704
Phone: 1-202-265-6653
Fax: 1-202-265-6656
Email: icemb.wash@utn.stjr.is

Prime Minister David Oddson
Prime Minister's Office
Stjornarradshusinu vid Laekjartorg
150 Reykjavik
Phone: (+354) 545 8400
Fax: (+354) 562 4014
Email: postur@for.stjr.is

Embassy of Norway
Ambassador Knut Vollebaek
2720 34th Street NW
Washington, DC 20008
Tel: (202) 333-6000
Fax: (202) 338-0515

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