Iceland Sets Harpoon Sights on 38 Minke Whales

REYKJAVIK, Iceland, August 6, 2003 (ENS) - Iceland has decided to kill 38 minke whales this summer, the first whale hunting that the island country has undertaken since 1989, the Icelandic Ministry of Fisheries announced today.

The whale hunt will be conducted under the scientific research provisions of the International Whaling Commission (IWC), to which Iceland was readmitted last fall. The IWC's Scientific Committee estimates there are presently 43,000 minke whales in Icelandic coastal waters.

The main objective of Iceland's research is to "gain knowledge on the role that minke whales have in the marine ecosystem, especially their interaction with fish stocks," the ministry said in a statement.

Iceland's original proposal to the IWC Scientific Committee was for the taking of 50 sei whales, 100 fin whales and 100 minke whales annually for two years. But Iceland settled on its present take of 38 minke whales after its initial proposal elicited what the ministry called, "different opinions on most issues within the Scientific Committee."

The advocacy group International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) expressed outrage at Iceland's decision to return to whaling, and said the country's whale watching and ecotourism markets will be hurt by the move.


A minke whale breaches in Icelandic coastal waters in front of a whale watching tour. (Photo courtesy Joyce and Bob Daniels)
“Iceland has a great deal to lose by going whaling,” said IFAW President Fred O’Regan. “Its fast growing whale watching industry, currently worth around £5 million a year, is likely to suffer as a result."

Despite a global ban on commercial whaling imposed by the whaling commission in 1986, all IWC member nations have "an undisputed right" to conduct scientific research whaling in accordance with Article 8 of the International Convention for the Regulation of Whaling, which established the IWC, the Icelandic ministry states.

As part of the right to research whaling, the IWC specifies that the products of the animals taken must be utilized, so Iceland will manufacture and sell products from the minke whales taken "as practicable," the ministry said.

The proceeds from selling the whale products into the domestic Icelandic market will fall short of covering the cost of the scientific research, said the ministry. To make up the shortfall, the government of Iceland has decided to fund the research whaling "in view of its importance for maintaining Iceland's long term policy of sustainable use of living marine resources," the ministry said.

The World Wildlife Fund (WWF) based in Washington, DC urged Iceland to reconsider its decision. Richard Mott, vice president for international policy at WWF, said, "With this whale hunt, Iceland is thumbing its nose at the international community. Like Japan before it, Iceland is clearly abusing the IWC's scientific exemption for other purposes. This hunt is about meat, not science."

"Scientists with the International Whaling Commission recently published an article noting the deficiencies in Iceland's proposal and stating that there is no need to kill whales to gather the scientific data for managing whales, which Iceland claims it is seeking," said Mott. "Such information can be gathered through harmless biopsies, but that kind of science provides no meat for Icelandic whalers to sell to consumers."

The Icelandic Ministry of Fisheries says the "applicability of nonlethal research methods" is one of its research goals.


A minke whale hit by a whaler's harpoon (Photo credit unknown)
Iceland also intends to increase the knowledge on feeding ecology of minke whales in Icelandic waters by studies on diet composition, energetics, consumption of different prey species and multispecies modelling, the ministry said.

Comparison of the genetic structure of minke whales off Iceland, Norway, the Faroe Islands and Greenland is another stated research goal along with evaluation of the effect of "potential pathogens," and "temporal changes in biological parameters."

In addition, the research whaling is designed to address "the pollutant burden and evaluation of the health status of individual whales and populations," the ministry said.

“There is absolutely no scientific basis for these whales to be killed," IFAW's O'Regan said. "Whales already face constant threat from pollution, entanglement in fishing nets, habitat loss and other dangers.”

In 1987, after pressure from Greenpeace and consumers, Iceland announced an end to scientific whaling.

But today, while the Icelandic Ministry of Fisheries said that taking of threatened or endangered whales for any purpose, including scientific research, "is certainly not justified and is clearly opposed by Iceland," it stated, "limited taking of animals from abundant populations cannot be opposed on environmental or ecological grounds."

"Quite to the contrary," the ministry said, "the need for a comprehensive understanding of the ecosystem of the sea makes it imperative for us to study as much as possible all the different elements of the ecosystem, including whales."