ABOUT WHALING IN ICELAND
Sadly, Iceland is among the few countries in the world that still hunts whales. The current whaling operation is in accordance with a resolution by the Iceland’s parliament, Alþingi, on whaling dated 10 March 1999. After a 13 year stop whaling was resumed scientifically in 2003 and commercially in 2006, targeting minke and fin whales. This operation has raised considerable attention and opposition world wide given the IWC current zero quotas, often referred to as a moratorium on whaling. Contrary to the common belief Iceland does not have a long history of whaling. It wasn’t until 1948 that Icelanders started their first actual whaling operation after limited catches in 1935 to 1939. At the time fin, sei and sperm whales were mainly targeted and to some extent blue and humpback whales to begin with. The hunt of minke whales however started later on.
Before this the use of whales was mainly limited to the occasional stranding of whales and spear-drifting of smaller cetacean. There is no denying that at the time the meat provided by a stranded whale often meant the difference between life and death for a starving community. The Icelandic word ‘hvalreki’, meaning whale stranding, has therefore come to mean ‘jackpot’ or ‘good fortune’ and is still widely used today. At the time the whale deaths around Iceland were though not all by natural causes as foreign whalers started making their way to the rich whaling grounds around Iceland in the 16th century. Given the current whaling operation many find it hard to belief that Iceland was one of the first countries to take a conservationist approach to whaling. This was in 1915 when signs of over exploitation of whales by foreign whalers emerged, but also nationalistic sentiments that had risen from watching the whalers profit from the industry that Icelanders lacked the facilities and technical knowhow to take part in.
The opposition to whaling in Iceland is currently largely focused on the minke whaling given the direct competition with the whale watching industry. In recent years the minke whaling has only taken place close to the whale watching area in Faxaflói bay and the companies there have raised concerns that they whalers might be targeting their most valuable whales. Internationally the focus is more on the fin whaling as the they are globally listed by IUCN as an endangered species and the fin whaling trade is therefore in violation the CITES agreement.