The much-awaited report on the 2022 fin whale season has been released by The Icelandic Food and Veterinary Authority (MAST).
Following a pause in whaling, Iceland resumed the practice last year. Minister of Food, Agriculture, and Fisheries Svandís Svavarsdóttir has stated that after the 2023 whaling season, whaling permits may not be renewed. She introduced tighter surveillance methods for whaling ships last season, in addition to the inclusion of animal welfare officers among the crew to minimize the suffering of the animals. Whether or not whaling is to continue in Iceland is dependent on the results of the report commissioned on the 2022 whaling season, which, after a delay, is now publically available.
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According to law, those who engage in hunting are required to ensure that they cause the least possible harm and that the killing takes the shortest possible time for the animals. In a statement by MAST, they recognize that best practices were followed and provisions on hunting under the Animal Welfare Act were not broken. However, MAST also found an “unacceptable” proportion of the whales suffered prolonged deaths.
According to the report, which is based on data from 58 whale killings, 35 whales (59%) were killed instantaneously, according to the International Whaling Commission’s (IWC) definition of instant death.
In addition, it is believed that five whales that showed convulsions lost consciousness either instantly or very quickly, and therefore it is estimated that 67% of the whales experienced instantaneous death.
Some 14 whales (24%) were shot more than once, while two whales had to be shot four times. Median Time to Death (TTD) of those whales which did not die instantly was found to be 11.5 minutes.
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However, because the findings differed significantly from a comparable 2014 report, Hvalur hf, the only whaling company still operating in Iceland, requested a second opinion.
Written by Wild Animal Veterinarian Þóra J. Jónsdóttir, the second opinion found the Instantaneous Death Rate (IDR) to be “somewhat higher” than the conclusions of MAST. Given differences in methodology and data collection, Þóra stated that “it is difficult to compare the results from 2014 with the current data […] The way the sampling and monitoring have been carried out, the quality control of recorded data, are far from being equal for the two sampling seasons […] They are like apples and pears.”
Additionally, Þóra stated that due to several problems with the video monitoring, recorded Time to Death (TTD) could not be fully controlled. “The platform used for filming is usually the wheelhouse instead of the wheelhouse roof or another place where the overview and sight is much better to observe the killing. So, for several whales the recorded TTD will be imprecise, most probably overestimated.”
The study monitored Hvalur 8 and Hvalur 9, the only two whaling ships still active in Iceland.
MAST will ask an animal welfare advisory board to review the data and assess whether whaling can be practised in line with animal welfare laws. If this is deemed possible, the government will need to establish regulations for the implementation of the hunts and minimum requirements for them.