By Clare Perry
Tomorrow the 65th meeting of the International Whaling Commission begins in Slovenia, writes Clare Perry. Among the issues: Iceland's slaughter of fin whales in defiance of the IWC moratorium, and its illegal export of their flesh and blubber to Japan - over 2,000 tonnes this year alone. The IWC and its member nations must act.
The fin whale is the second largest species on the planet - a giant at more than 20 metres in length but able to swim at speeds in excess of 35km per hour, earning it the nickname 'greyhound of the sea'.
For decades it was the target of industrial-scale commercial whaling operations whose factory fleets decimated whale populations in all oceans.
The wholesale slaughter ended in 1986 with the implementation of the International Whaling Commission's (IWC) moratorium on commercial whaling.
However, the damage done to the fin whale was already catastrophic. Almost 30 years later it remains an endangered species.
No local demand - yet the whaling continues
Despite its status as an endangered species, and even though there is no local demand for its meat, Iceland permits the hunting of fin whales, as well as the smaller minke whale, in the North Atlantic.
Since 2006, the Icelandic whaling company Hvalur hf has killed more than 500 fin whales, purely to exploit a limited demand for whale meat and blubber in Japan.
Over the past eight years, Hvalur has exported more than 5,000 tonnes of fin whale products from Iceland to Japan, including a record single shipment of 2,071 tonnes in 2014.
These exports are worth an estimated US$50 million and Iceland's escalating whale hunts are clear and wilful abuses of the IWC's moratorium as well as the ban on international commercial trade in whale products imposed by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES).
Iceland claims its whaling is sustainable when the best available scientific evidence reveals that its fin whale quota is more than three times greater than the level considered sustainable.
Diplomatic protests - but more whales are being killed
Iceland's whaling and associated trade are strongly opposed by the international community.
Dozens of governments have agreed to several strongly worded diplomatic protests (démarches) against Iceland since it resumed whaling in 2003. And the United States Government has recently implemented more extensive bilateral diplomatic measures against Iceland to protest its whaling and trade.
So far, however, political and diplomatic efforts against Iceland's whaling have been insufficient to provoke a change in policy. After a two-year hiatus in 2011 and 2012, which it attributed to market disruption caused by the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami in Japan, Iceland resumed fin whaling with even higher quotas.
In December 2013, Iceland's Ministry of Fisheries issued a five-year block quota for 154 fin whales per year - as many as 770 over the whole period.
At the centre of the industry is Kristján Loftsson, the Executive Director of Hvalur who kept Iceland's whaling fleet intact when most other whaling nations accepted the moratorium and repurposed or scrapped their vessels.
Convinced that Japan still represents a viable market for fin whale products, Hvalur has used the resources of Icelandic fishing giant HB Grandi to keep the shipments flowing to Japan
The IWC must awake from its torpor
Against this backdrop, it is hard to understand why the IWC has made no formal statement concerning Iceland's commercial whaling, even more so since 19 IWC member countries formally objected to Iceland's reservation and several stated that they do not consider the Convention as being in force between Iceland and their countries.
Indeed, this raises the question of whether Iceland was actually legally accepted back into the IWC with its reservation.
It is time for the Contracting Governments to the IWC and non-member governments worldwide to take strong diplomatic and economic action to bring an end to what is clearly the most flagrant abuse of the moratorium on commercial whaling since its inception.
Without such action, Iceland's commercial whaling and its exports of the products of endangered fin whales to Japan will continue, and Hvalur's domination of the Japanese market will grow.
That's why my organisation, the Environmental Investigation Agency, together with the Animal Welfare Institute, and Whale and Dolphin Conservation, are calling on the IWC, governments and businesses dealing with Icelandic companies linked to whaling to take action to compel Iceland to cease commercial whaling and trade. More....