Harpoons Are Silenced: Iceland’s Whaling Boats Spend Second-Straight Season Tied Up in Port

For the second straight year, there will be no whale hunting season in Iceland, and conservation groups are celebrating.

After the international moratorium against whaling began in 1986, two Icelandic companies, Hvalur and IP-Utgerd, carried on hunting fin whales and minke whales.

This year, IP-Utgerd cited financial difficulties involving the increased number of no-fishing zones off Iceland’s coast, while Hvalur reported stiff competition from Japanese whaling companies which the Japanese government subsidizes.

Its CEO, Kristján Loftsson, said that Japan has created stricter measures for imported Icelandic whale meat, and the COVID-19 outbreak would make the close quarters work involved in whaling difficult and unsafe, with social distancing guidelines being hard to observe.

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“This is indeed terrific news that for a second straight year, vulnerable fin whales will get a reprieve from Hvalur hf.’s harpoons, the sole fin whaling company,” Fabienne McLellan, co-director of international relations at Ocean Care, told Mongabay.

According to Hard to Port, a German organization working to end whaling in Iceland, Loftsson will want to keep Hvalur—a family business—operational, despite pressure from conservation groups.

Whales, as GNN has reported, represent a keystone species in global oceanic ecosystems, as well as a significant ally in the fight against climate change.

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For conservationists in Europe who are concerned with whaling, Iceland’s industry, which has ignored the international moratorium for almost 40 years, could be ended by increasing financial pressure from Japan.

In 2018, Japan exited the International Whaling Commission, and still subsidizes the industry to the tune of $10 million a year, according to Whales US. But as reported by Science, it is a niche profession feeding an ever-shrinking niche market. Japan decided “to stop large-scale whaling” on the high seas in 2018, and will only hunt in Japanese coastal waters, given the declining demand.

Japanese whale meat consumption dropped from 203,000 tons in 1965 to just 4000 tons in 2015. Reduced demand has resulted in a 2019 catch during whaling season of 2000 tons.

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With only 3% of Icelandic citizens saying they eat minke meat, there’s only so much time Hvalur and IP-Utgerd’s boats can remain stationary through the summer before market forces take their toll, and whaling is consigned to history.

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