It is the commercial and political interests of a few people that stand in the way of history claiming commercial whaling as a travesty of the past. We saw that last week, with both Japan and Iceland reinvigorating their dying commercial whale hunting industries.  

In what Humane Society International has described as a devastatingly disappointing decision, on Tuesday, 11 June the Government of Iceland renewed a one-year commercial whaling licence to whaling company, Hvalur hf, to kill 128 fin whales this Nordic summer. This was despite previously signalling that it might do otherwise.  

On the same day, a fisheries committee in Japan also condemned the lives of sixty fin whales, approving they be added to the hunts for minke and Bryde’s whales in that country’s waters. An inflammatory decision that is expected to be confirmed by the Government of Japan in July.  

Fin whales are the second largest whale on the planet and immense suffering is involved in their killing. The Icelandic Government had acknowledged this. An independent report published last year by the Icelandic Food and Veterinary Authority revealed some whales killed in Icelandic hunts had taken up to two hours to die, with 41% of whales suffering immensely before dying for an average of 11.5 minutes. Such suffering was deemed in contravention of the country’s Animal Welfare Act. 

The fin whales sanctioned for slaughter by both countries are classified as Vulnerable to Extinction and, like all whales, are contending with multiple threats in today’s oceans from pollution, climate change, entanglement in fish nets and ship strikes. With the need for whale protection so critical, compliance with the global ban on commercial whaling agreed in 1982 has never been more important.  

Three countries continue to flout the global ban: Japan, Iceland and Norway. All three are high income, wealthy countries and unable to justify continuing the industry on any kind of subsistence or nutritional need. The International Whaling Commission allows for aboriginal subsistence whaling by Indigenous communities in Greenland, St Vincents & the Grenadines, Russia and the US. Whereas the hunts in Iceland, Japan and Norway are undeniably commercial.   

That is not to say that the industry is commercially viable. Whale meat is a product without a customer base. Iceland had suspended hunting fin whales in 2016 due to a declining market for whale meat in Japan to where it exports the meat. And the industry in Japan would have long been history if it weren’t for massive government subsidies. 

Instead, the political pressure to appease the private interests of vocal minorities sees these governments keeping the whale industry in business. And so it is for that reason, that in 2024, forty years after the world agreed to ban commercial whale hunts, that we still have shameful new entries in the whaling history books instead of a closing the chapter on this cruelty.  

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