Nationalism, luxury and tourism keep whaling alive, despite Iceland's misgivings

Iceland announced last Tuesday that it will allow the hunting of 128 whales in 2024. They will be added to the more than 500 that Norway kills each season and the more than 300 that Japan kills, the only three countries in the world that reject this. the international ban on commercial hunting in force since 1986.

A mix of national pride, a luxury commercial niche and tourist appeal means that whale meat will generate around €380 million a year in the 21st century. And it continues. The consultant Data Bridge predicts revenue will nearly double by 2030 –549 million–.

Iceland had already expressed doubts about its whaling activities: there was no hunting between 2019 and 2021, but hunting returned in 2022. Last year the country partially halted the season after an official report noted that hunting methods could violate Icelandic law. The scientific director of the organization Ocean Care, Mark Simmond, describes the final decision of the Icelandic government as “a huge disappointment”. “It's completely the opposite of what millions of people expected. “We had seen signs of change in Iceland in recent months, but the country has missed a great opportunity to put this cruel and archaic practice behind it.”

Since the International Whaling Commission agreed to ban commercial whaling, more than 40,000 whales have been harpooned. In the early years, a large portion of the pieces were killed under the umbrella of “scientific research.” But in 1993, Norway reactivated its commercial whalers. Japan left the Commission in 2018 and resumed commercial hunting a year later.

Tradition as argument

In 1988, then head of Japan's fisheries affairs, Junichiro Okamoto, sent a clear message on whaling that marked the country's position: “It has become a matter of national pride,” he declared during the return of the Japanese whaling ship Antarctica. 36 years later, the current spokesperson for the Japanese government, Yoshimasa Hayashi, has emphasized that “it is important to perpetuate Japanese culinary culture.” He also stated that whales “can be exploited sustainably, just like any other marine resource.”

Because instead of slowing down its whaling, Japan is stepping on the accelerator. Hayashi's words came during the presentation last May of a new whaleboat from the Japanese company Kyodo Senpaku. The mothership, named Kangei Maru, cost 48 million euros and is in reality a large floating meat factory for cetaceans.

The capacity, autonomy and size of this ship have led anti-whaling activists to suspect that it could enter international waters in search of cetaceans. The company's president, Hideko Tokoro, declared during a tour on the boat with journalists that “whales are at the top of the food chain. They compete with humans by eating marine animals that should feed our fish. We must sacrifice whales to maintain the balance of the ecosystem: it is our job and our mission to protect the oceans for the future.”

Whales are at the top of the food chain. They compete with humans by eating marine animals that should feed our fish. We must sacrifice whales to maintain the balance of the ecosystem

Hideko Tokoro
President of the Japanese whaling company Kyodo Senpaku

In addition, Japanese hunters will be able to shoot their harpoons at a new species this season. This year, the Executive plans to allow the hunting of fin whales – the second largest animal in the world after the blue whale. In this way, four species of whales will be admitted huntable in Japan: the Bryde's whale, the minke whale, the northern whale and now the common whale. In addition, the organization Whales and Dolphins Conservation has calculated that the Japanese state subsidizes hunting with 10 million dollars annually.

Norway: main whaling power

However, the country with the most whaling in the world is on the other side of the world. Norway assigns itself a quota of about a thousand whales per year to hunt, although it then harpoons an average of about 500 minke whales.


The Norwegian government justifies that “whaling is part of Norway's age-old traditions. It is sustainable and legal.” It refers to the fact that this happens in Norwegian jurisdictional waters where the state is sovereign in terms of the management of marine resources. He also claims that his target species, the minke whale, is not endangered “there are more than 100,000 in Norwegian waters,” he emphasizes.

In addition, more than a third of the whale meat that Norway produces annually is intended for export to Japan. It is also used as a tourist attraction in the Scandinavian country and batches of this meat have been documented to have been used as dog food.

Norwegian whalers have asked the government to promote the consumption of cetacean meat in the country: “Norwegians have stopped eating whales, so the Norwegian market has failed,” said an industry representative in a debate held just a month ago organized News from the Far North.

Iceland's decision has led to “bitter disappointment” among environmentalists, who had hoped the country would stop hunting this year. That hope was based on reports of whale harpoons revealing “cruelty” and “suffering” on the part of the animals.

We had seen signs of change in Iceland in recent months, but the country has missed a great opportunity to put this cruel and archaic practice behind it.

Mark Simmond
Scientific Director Ocean Care

Even a new report from the Icelandic Executive – from March 2024 – has shown that 21% of whales killed in 2023 had received at least two shots with an average mortality time of 11 minutes and one case where the whale took 35 minutes. to die after the first harpoon blow.

In Iceland, both minke and fin whales are hunted in the waters near Greenland and the Faroe Islands. “Contrary to popular belief, whale meat is not a local food and only 2% of the population consumes it,” says a Whales and Dolphins Conservation report on activities on the island. So part of the production is sold to Japan and another part has become an attraction for tourists visiting the Atlantic country.

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