Whaling may sound like an ancient sport where men decapitate and maim whales using their spears, in reality, it’s an industry where whales are poached for meat, blubber and oil. It has been in practice since 875 AD although now only three countries actively participate in whaling. Iceland, Norway and Japan are those three countries. Norway openly allows commercial whaling. Japan gives their poaching the facade of “scientific whaling” in Antarctica which many countries criticize. Iceland too allowed research whaling till they were forced to stop in 1990. Although in 2002 they resumed their commercial poaching.
The poaching is mainly done with ships. The whales are hit by ships or captured in a net. The countries involved in this business own whaling fleets.
How are whales important to the ecosystem?
These magnificent creatures of the ocean are an important part of the food cycle and ecosystem.
Whales like any other sea creature, feeds, rest, digest and defecate in the ocean. This lifestyle of theirs provides phosphorus, nitrogen, and iron to other sea creatures on a daily basis. Their life provides life and productivity to other sea creatures.
Also after their death, their carcasses are a huge source of nutrients to other creatures that feed on their flesh and bones. Also, this provides carbon to the ocean bed.
Other than to the sea, they provide huge opportunities to humans too. They enhance tourism and whale watching shows which earn the countries a huge amount of money.
International Whaling Commission, founded in 1986 imposes a ban on whaling. Their main motive was to prevent whales from extinction.
Situation of Iceland
Iceland, resumed their whaling business in 2002 and reportedly has killed 1,505 whales since then.
But the game changed in 2014 when the European Government denied access to the ports to Iceland which is needed for transportation of the whale flesh that Japan buys from them.
In 2019, in a shocking event, Iceland’s most controversial whaler, Kristján Loftsson, who owns Hvalur, declared he won’t poach fin whales anymore. Hence his ships stayed in port in 2019.
2020 to presents before us the picture where Iceland has decided against whaling. This is perhaps the beginning of the end of whaling in Iceland permanently.
“I’m never going to hunt whales again, I’m stopping for good,” said Gunnar Bergman Jonsson, managing director of Minke Whales Company IP-Utgerd.
On 24th April 2020, Jonsson gave this statement to AFP.
Kristján Loftsson too told the Icelandic newspaper, Morgunbladid that he wouldn’t engage in whaling this year either.
He said the major reason behind this is the social distancing that is imposed all around the globe due to the pandemic.
In this situation, manning the cruise and processing the whale is not practical.
Another reason behind this decision could be the fall in demand for whale flesh and a considerable rise in demand for whale watching.
Between 2012-2016 people going in whale watching trips increased by 18-34% annually. This resulted in a boom in income from whale watching while income from whale hunting fell drastically.
Considering all of these factors Iceland can be said to be on its way to a permanent cessation of commercial whaling.