By Kevin Heath
Last Friday the Icelandic government quietly signed off the quota of whales to be killed over the next five years. The total includes 770 endangered fin whales and 1145 minke whales. Despite Iceland’s only whaling company having increasing difficulty in finding a market for whale meat the government has decided to continue to issue annual quotas for the killing of whales.
The quota which will run from next year will see the whaling company run by Kristjan Loftsson able to harpoon and kill 229 minke whales each year and 154 fin whales each year. The market for whale meat in Iceland is shrinking and new markets are having to be found for the whale meat including for use as dog food in Japan.
In Iceland only 3% of adults have said they regularly eat whale meat and 75% of residents say they never buy the meat. Younger people (under 25) are increasingly adverse to whale meat with 86% saying they never buy the meat. Local restaurants who depend on the whale watching tourism industry have also responded by removing whale from the menu.
The whale watching industry is growing in importance to Iceland with 175,000 people visiting the country each year to see the whales. This year the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW), along with Icewhale, the Association of Icelandic whale watch operators, launched a Whale Friendly Restaurants scheme promoting restaurants which pledge not to serve whale meat. Almost 50% of restaurants in downtown Reykjavik have so far signed up and display a Whale Friendly logo to tourists.
Robbie Marsland, UK Director of IFAW, said: “We are deeply disappointed that such a controversial decision has been made in such a manner. To sneak the decision out on a Friday evening shortly before Christmas without any reference to Icelandic and international criticism of this unnecessary and inhumane trade demonstrates how embarrassing one stubborn whaler is becoming to Iceland.”
Iceland’s commitment to harpooning and killing whales is diplomatic problems and also public relations issues. The United States has threaten the country with diplomatic sanctions if it continues with commercial whale hunting. Ports in Europe have also taken direct action against the whalers by refusing to accept cargos that contain whale meat. Both Amsterdam and Hamburg have turn cargo ships away for carrying whale meat due to public pressure.