Whaling Update: When International Regulation Gets Ignored

June 27, 2024

Mark Simmonds, Director of Science at OceanCare reports on the latest developments in Iceland and Japan to extend and expand commercial whaling.

The Icelandic government has granted its one and only whaling company a quota of 128 fin whales for this year only. This was announced on Tuesday June 11th by the Minister of Fisheries, Bjarkey Olsen Gunnarsdóttir, of the Left-Greens party. The announcement has led to cries of dismay from across the world, including from OceanCare. Our press statement can be seen here.

However, there may yet be a reprieve for the fin whales of the North Atlantic. Recent media reports indicate that the Icelandic whaling company to which the quota was granted may not utilise it. The company has suggested that the quota was awarded to them too late in the year for them to be able to effectively use it. So, whether or not the two-vessel whaling fleet will go into action this year remains to be seen.

What is clearer is that whaling continues to be a major issue of contention within the Icelandic government with support and opposition divided along party lines. Bjarkey Olsen Gunnarsdóttir expressed her reluctance at having to announce the new quota but said that legally she had to issue it. She has also just survived an attempted vote of no confidence which was seemingly based on her opposition to whaling.

By what seems to be a very artfully contrived ‘coincidence’ on the same day (Tuesday June 11th), Japan’s Fisheries Agency confirmed that it would allow the one remaining whaling company in Japan, Kyodo Senpaku, to kill fin whales in the North Pacific – adding this species to the three whale species that it is already killing. Like Iceland it has calculated its own quota and, also like Iceland, the Agency made some reference to the whaling ‘regulations’ of the International Whaling Commission (IWC), suggesting that it is following such rules.

However, this is not the case. Japan has not discussed its plans to take fin whales with the IWC, despite the fact that there was a meeting of the IWC Scientific Committee just a few weeks ago. Japan was represented there and said nothing about this.

The self-allocated whaling quota is for 59 fin whales, in addition to its existing annual quota of 25 sei whales, 150 Bryde’s whales, and 142 minke whales.

Iceland’s only significant marketplace for its fin whale meat is Japan, so with Japan now catching its own fin whales, will it even want any coming from Iceland? It is also increasingly clear that Japan has a huge stockpile of whale meat anyway. The economics of whaling make no sense.


For a further discussion of the factors leading to these co-joined decisions in Japan and Iceland please see a recent blog by Mark Simmonds

OceanCare’s press release on Japan’s fin whaling

Fisheries Agency Council Approves Proposal to Add Fin Whales to Commercial Whaling Targets. NHK, 11 June 2024.

Sér ekki fyrir sér hval­veiðar í sumar. Visir, 12 June 2024. (Engl.: [Kristján Loftsson] can’t imagine whaling this summer)

Iceland grants country’s last whaling company licence to hunt 128 fin whales. The Guardian, 11 June 2024.