A minke whaler in Iceland. Photo by Páll Stefánsson.

A minke whaler in Iceland. Photo by Páll Stefánsson.

When most people think about the global whaling industry — if they think of it at all ― they probably imagine Japanese whalers, who have been the target of a long-running campaign led by Sea Shepherd. But other countries have thriving whaling industries, too; in fact, Iceland’s 2009 whaling season began today.

That the world’s whales are still hunted comes as a surprise to many people, though international pressure on whalers is helping to raise awareness around the planet. Iceland has had an on again, off again moratorium on commercial whaling since 1990, when it began honoring guidelines set by the International Whaling Commission. It broke away from the global moratorium in 2006. In January of this year, Iceland’s outgoing minister, Einar Gudfinnsson, decided to resume whaling and announced that 100 minke whales and 150 endangered fin whales could be hunted each year until 2013. About half of the whale meat Iceland plans to bring in will be sold to Japan.

But Iceland’s new government could shift the country’s whaling policy, and animal groups are working hard to ensure that happens. The new government, which consists of Social Democrats and the Left-Green Movement, was elected in April and has indicated that the country’s whaling industry will be reassessed based on its “sustainability and importance for national economy as a whole as well as Iceland’s international obligations and Iceland’s image.” 

Among the groups working to end Iceland’s whaling industry are Campaign Whale, Environmental Investigation Agency, International Fund for Animal Welfare, World Society for the Protection of Animals (WSPA) and Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society (WDCS). Today campaigners from these groups carrying a 25-foot inflatable minke whale have gathered outside the Icelandic embassy in London in protest at the country’s whaling policy. In a 20-minute meeting with the Icelandic ambassador, Sverrir Haukur Gunnlaugsson, activists presented highlights of a new UK opinion poll suggesting that 82% of the British public are opposed to Iceland’s whaling and that 64% are prepared to boycott Icelandic products because of its commercial whaling.

“Iceland’s decision to resume large-scale commercial whaling is a desperate attempt to secure income from whale meat sales to Japan,” says Kate O’Connell of WDCS. “It is a sad day for whales that they now become the latest potential victims of the world economic crisis. We have not seen a hunt of this scale in the North Atlantic since the 1980s. And there is still a ban on whaling in place.”

What You Can Do

  • Get the facts. Most people don’t realize there is still a whaling industry. Visit the sites of groups like WSPA, Save the Whales and Sea Shepherd to learn about whaling around the world.
  • Speak up. Let people know that the Danish Faeroe Islands, Iceland, Japan, Norway and the tiny island nations of St. Lucia and St. Vincent & the Grenadines still engage in whaling. Send letters to editors. Please share this post on social media sites or email it to friends and ask them to speak up, too.
  • Visit this link on WSPA’s site and take part in their effort to influence representatives of more than 80 governments who will meet on June 22 to decide the fate of the world’s whales.