No Whaling This Summer

Hvalur, whaling company,

Whales will not be hunted in Icelandic waters this summer, according to Kristján Loftsson, the CEO of Hvalur hf., Iceland’s only whaling operation. “As it stands right now, we have no hope of whaling this summer,” he told Morgunblaðið.

Opposition from the Left-Greens

The company applied to the ministry of food, agriculture and fisheries for a whaling license on January 30. The ministry has not responded and a new minister was appointed last week, Bjarkey Olsen Gunnarsdóttir of the Left-Green Movement. Her fellow party member, Svandís Svavarsdóttir, had been the previous minister and was set to face a vote of no confidence in Alþingi, Iceland’s parliament, for temporarily stopping whaling last summer. The Parliamentary Ombudsman had found that her decision to stop whaling on animal welfare grounds had not been in accordance with the law.

“It’s clear in my mind that the ministry under the leadership of the Left-Greens is disregarding the conclusion of the Parliamentary Ombudsman and continues methodically on its mission of destroying this industry, even though it’s operating on legal grounds,” Kristján said. “When we don’t know if a license will be issued we can’t start hiring people and buying supplies, which is a necessary prerequisite for whaling.”

Controversial practice

Kristján added that the ministry had only been willing to issue a license for one year at a time and was asking the company to clarify if and how it adhered to certain stipulations in laws and regulations. The company has requested damages for the shortened whaling season of last summer.

Whaling remains a controversial practice in Iceland and is protested both domestically and abroad.

Activists Climb Masts of Hvalur Vessels

hvalur whale demonstration reykjavík

Early this morning, two activists climbed into the masts of Hvalur 8 and Hvalur 9 to oppose the lifting of the whaling ban. As of the time of writing, they continue to occupy the masts.

One activist named Eliza occupies Hvalur 8. Vísir states that she is associated with Sea Shepherd and its founder, Paul Watson, but is here independently. The other activist, one Anahita Babaei, occupies Hvalur 9 and has previously participated in demonstrations here in Iceland against whaling with the filmmaker Micah Garen.

A special unit of police and the fire department were quick to the scene. An aerial work platform was quickly deployed and authorities spoke with Anahita, who refused to come down. According to Micah Garen in an interview with Vísir, authorities confiscated Anahita’s supplies that she had taken with her, including food and water.

Given the recent lifting of the whaling ban in Iceland, the two Havlur ships were scheduled to begin their hunting season soon. Many activists have opposed the government’s decision to allow the whale hunt again. Prominent voices have included international media figures and True North, an Icelandic film production company.

In a post on social media, Anahita provided the following statement:

“My name is Anahita Babaei and I am part of the growing group of people here in Iceland that is against whaling. We are doing what we can to stop these ships from leaving the harbor and kill up to 209 fin whales. Right now I am in the mast of Hvalur 9 where I will be staying for as long as I can to stop the ships from going out to sea. The reason why I am doing this is not to cause trouble for anyone directly apart from the owners of Hvalur hf. I understand though that my actions will affect other groups of people indirectly, and to them I would like to apologize in advance. The actions of the owners of Hvalur hf affect many people and so action against them will also do the same. If a law is unjust, one is not only right to disobey it, one is obliged to do so. #stopwhaling now.”

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All Hands Still on Deck at Hvalur

whaling in iceland

Despite the temporary whaling ban, Hvalur hf., the only company to whale in Iceland, has not let any of its crew go. Kristján Loftsson explained the situation in a recent interview with Morgunblaðið.

Minister of Food and Agriculture Svandís Svavarsdóttir announced a temporary halt to whaling this summer which took effect June 20, the day before this year’s whale hunt was set to begin. The ban is valid until September 1. Many critiqued the last-minute nature of the announcement at the time, citing concerns of job loss.

Read more: Protest Job Loss Due to Whaling Ban

“No one has been let go due to the whale hunting ban. Those who had started or were just about to start are all still employed with us, and we are preparing ourselves to begin the hunting on September 1st,” Kristján stated to Morgunblaðið. Hvalur had promised employment to around 100 crew members for this year’s hunting season.

“People are finding other tasks to keep busy with,” he continued. “We were fully prepared in the spring, but there’s always room for improvement. At least it won’t be worse now than in the spring.”

Kristján also acknowledged that the whaling ban has been somewhat costly, “about as expensive as one might expect.”

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Sea Change

whaling in iceland

Last spring, journalists and activists gathered in a quiet fjord an hour’s drive north of Reykjavík. There was a small harbour, but no fishermen bringing in the day’s catch. For what these guys were fishing, they needed a bigger boat. The whaling ships of Hvalur were preparing for a season of fin whale hunting, planning […]

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Full House for Meeting on Whaling Decision

Minister of Health Svandís Svavarsdóttir

Members of the Independence Party and the Progressive Party demanded at a town hall meeting in Akranes last night, June 22, that Svandís Svavarsdóttir, the Minister of Fisheries, reconsider her decision to temporarily halt whale hunting. RÚV reports.

The meeting in Akranes was called in response to the recent decision to halt the whale hunting season this year in light of animal welfare concerns. Svandís addressed the reasoning behind the recent decision, acknowledging that people have strong opinions on the matter.

Read More: No Whaling This Summer

“It is always important to base the discussion on facts, genuine knowledge, and reality, but it is natural for people to have strong emotions and heated debates,” the minister stated.

Regarding the short notice of the decision, she explained that she had to quickly assess the potential impact of the advisory board’s recommendations based on the latest report.

Read More: Protest Job Loss Due to Whaling  Ban

“Knowing this, I cannot let the season start, so I made the decision to postpone the beginning in order to attempt to establish better communication with stakeholders and those who are most knowledgeable,” she said.

Teitur Björn Einarsson, representative of the Independence Party, also spoke at the meeting, indicating that the minister’s recent decision may be illegal.

Svandís denied this, referring to the Ministry’s obligation to follow welfare guidelines.

“No Legislative Means” to Stop Whaling this Summer

Minister of Health Svandís Svavarsdóttir

Minister of Food, Agriculture, and Fisheries Svandís Svavarsdóttir stated in a meeting with a parliamentary committee this morning that she considered her hands to be tied on the issue of stopping whaling this summer. Stating that there was “no legal basis” to revoke the existing whaling permits, she suggested that general laws on whale hunting need to be reviewed.

The Parliamentary Committee on Industry invited Svandís to discuss the long-awaited report on the 2022 whaling season. The report concluded that one in every four whales was shot more than once and that it was not possible to practice whale hunting while also conforming to animal rights legislation.

Hvalur hf., the only company in Iceland to still practice whaling, has already been granted a permit to hunt fin whales this summer, but calls have been made for the minister to revoke it following the report. Given the current legal framework, Svandís has stated that it is not a possibility.

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In the parliamentary meeting this morning, the minister stated that revoking the hunting permit would require a legal basis that does not currently exist.

According to administrative laws, the permit could only be revoked if certain conditions were present in its original issuance or if the revocation could be proved to cause no harm to the company. Neither condition was met in this case. Additionally, there are no provisions for revoking hunting permits in the 1949 laws on whale hunting. The minister has stated several times that her ability to act is constrained by these conditions.

Svandís stated that regardless of the outcome of the coming year’s whaling season, she believed that the laws on whale hunting were outdated and inadequate, and in need of revision to align with modern legislation and standards.

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No assessment has been made regarding possible damages that the state would have to compensate Hvalur hf. if the company’s hunting permit was revoked. However, Svandís stated that the ministry is currently examining the climate, environmental, and economic impacts of whaling to establish a more solid basis for future decisions on the hunts.

Other parliamentary representatives have suggested that the ministry restrict the hunts by limiting the timeframe in which they can occur. Svandís has yet to respond directly to this suggestion.

 

Whaling Not in Line with Animal Welfare, Report Finds

Iceland whaling Hvalur hf

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.

Read more: Animal Welfare Inspectors to Join Whaling Ships

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.

Ask Iceland Review: Does Iceland Still Whale?

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.

The full text of the report can be found here.

Does Iceland Still Whale?

whale Iceland hvalur

Iceland does still practice whaling, though its days may be numbered.

Due to low market demand, expanded supply from whaling in Japan, and the COVID-19 pandemic, no whaling took place in Iceland from 2019 to 2021.

Hvalur hf., the only remaining company licensed to whale commercially in Iceland, did recommence whaling in 2022. Its license to whale is valid through 2023, but it is unclear whether it will be renewed after this date.

Minister of Fisheries Svandís Svavarsdóttir has raised the possibility of stopping whaling in Iceland, and has suggested new measures to ensure that the whaling industry abides by animal welfare regulations. Among her recommendations are drone monitoring and the presence of animal welfare officers aboard whaling vessels. Citing marginal economic benefit and harm to Iceland’s international image, the minister stated in an editorial last year that she saw little reason to renew the license.

Hvalur hf. has been embroiled in controversy in the past for failing to report its ship logs for the 2014, 2015, and 2018 seasons. In line with the minister’s recommendation, a government working group has been commissioned to assess the economic and social impacts of whaling in Iceland.

While Iceland does as of now practice whaling, 2023 may indeed be the last year whaling boats depart from its shores.

 

 

 

 

Whale of a Watching Season in North Iceland

This summer has been particularly good for whale watching in North Iceland, Vísir reports. According to one representative, Freyr Antonsson of Arctic Adventures in the North Iceland village of Dalvík, his company made 180 whale watching trips in July and saw a whale on all but four of them.

“We’ve had to sail a bit further out than where their food supply is, but there’s nothing unusual about that,” he remarked. “Yesterday, I went on three trips. In the morning, I saw one humpback, in the middle of the day, I saw five, and then one in the later part of the day. All in the same spot.”

There have been reports that few whales have been sighted of late in Eyjafjörður, the fjord on which the town of Akureyri is located. According to Freyr and others in the whale watching industry, however, that problem hasn’t extended beyond the fjord.