Press release

Iceland’s decision to issue new whale killing quota condemned by conservation experts

June 11, 2024

Today, the Icelandic government has announced its devastating decision to allow commercial whaling to continue, granting itself a new quota for one year. OceanCare is bitterly disappointed by this decision and joins millions of people around the world in condemning it. 

Mark Simmonds OBE, Director of Science at OceanCare commented: 

“The Icelandic government’s announcement is a huge disappointment for us and a disaster for wildlife on an already damaged planet. It is the complete opposite of what millions of people around the world were hoping to hear. We had seen signs of change in Iceland in recent months, including the gathering of hard evidence showing how cruel whaling is. This whaling does not meet human needs, it is unnecessary and unethical. Continuing it is simply wrong. 

“Iceland has missed an important opportunity to move away from this cruel and archaic practice. Evidence presented last year clearly showed that whaling is unacceptably inhumane, and this decision flies in the face of that evidence. It is time to hang up the harpoons and we will now step up our campaigns to persuade them to stop. 

“Fin whales are gentle giants of our Ocean and they deserve to be treated with respect and kindness. There are so many threats to these animals, it would be so easy to remove one of them and stop whaling once and for all. We will be redoubling our efforts to persuade Iceland and the two other countries that continue this terrible practice – Norway and Japan – to change their minds.” 

The Icelandic Minister of Food, Agriculture, and Fisheries, Bjarkey Olsen Gunnarsdóttir, has today issued a license to the company Hvalur hf. for the hunting of fin whales. The license is valid only for the 2024 hunting season, permitting the hunting of up to 99 whales in the Greenland/West Iceland region and 29 whales in the East Iceland/Faroe Islands region, totalling 128 whales. 

Just a few days ago, on World Oceans Day 2024, OceanCare launched an international petition Because Our Planet Is Blue to world leaders with six action points for effective ocean protection. Among other demands, the initiative calls on governments to ensure effective protection of marine habitats and enforce marine protection measures to restore ecosystems damaged by human activities. 

Background Information

That the future of whaling in Iceland was up in the air had become clear in recent months. In June 2023, the Icelandic Minister then responsible for whaling, Svandís Svavarsdóttir, announced that whaling would be postponed until the end of August 2023 (effectively cancelling most of the whaling season). The reason for this was that investigations by independent observers into the previous year’s whaling season (in which 148 fin whales were killed) had revealed significant welfare concerns that may have breached Iceland’s own animal welfare legislation.  

Over the summer months last year, another review process within Iceland looked at the whaling in more detail, and on the basis of this, and with some new requirements in place, the Minister responsible allowed the two whaling vessels to begin whaling in September 2023.  

However, within days of starting to kill whales again, one vessel was called back to port because it was seen to be violating Icelandic animal welfare laws when a whale was recorded suffering a long and painful death. In total, the fleet appears to have taken only 23 fin whales before the end of the season in late September. One whale was struck and lost. Their self-assigned quota was 161.   

In mid-September, 15 Icelandic parliamentarians introduced a new bill to ban whaling in Iceland. The bill argues, among other things, that whaling violates Iceland’s animal welfare laws, that it endangers the Icelandic economy, and that business relationships are at stake.  

The bill was published for public comment and a record number of more than 3,000 submissions were received from around the world, including from actor Jason Momoa and ecologist Jane Goodall, calling for an end to whaling. 

Iceland has two large whaling ships in operation. Their size matters because they are big enough to catch fin whales, one of the largest animals ever to have lived, and this species is at the centre of the whalers’ interests because of the high value of its meat on the Japanese market. Only one company, Hvalur hf, is involved in the hunt and from their perspective it is all about the one export opportunity to Japan. There is no significant market for whale meat in Iceland itself. 

No commercial whaling for fin whales took place in Iceland in 2019, 2020 and 2021. In 2022, 148 fin whales were killed.  

The primary hunting tool is an explosive-tipped harpoon fired from a harpoon gun. The harpoon is designed to hit the whale in the area of the head and explode but remain intact enough to allow the whale to be embedded by its barbs so that the whale’s body can be hauled back to the hunting vessel by the rope attached to the harpoon. If the whale is not killed by this first strike, a second harpoon is usually fired into the whale. 

The new restrictions on whaling, which came into force in August 2023, include some details about the equipment to be used and the training of those involved, but these are matters that would have been expected anyway and are unlikely to have any real impact on the way whaling is carried out. Importantly, however, these new rules include a requirement that whaling should take place during daylight hours and under conditions that are likely to result in immediate death, taking into account factors such as wave height, weather conditions and visibility. 

The results of the 2022 whaling studies showed that of the 58 whales whose deaths were monitored, 41% did not die immediately (median time to death 11.5 minutes). Two whales took over an hour to die. 

Further information