Iceland Will Resume Commercial Whaling

REYKJAVIK, Iceland, October 17, 2006 (ENS) - Iceland announced on Tuesday it will resume commercial whale hunts for the first time in two decades. The decision defies a global ban on commercial whaling and has outraged conservationists who contend there is no need for the country to allow whale hunts.

"Commercial whaling is an out-dated and unnecessary industry that should have ended a century ago with the use of whale oil lamps," said Joth Singh of the International Fund for Animal Welfare. "The government of Iceland should be supporting its nation's thriving and growing whale watching industry rather than sinking money and its political reputation into promoting the hunting of whales."

Icelandic officials argue that its decision to resume "sustainable whaling" is based on science and reflects the island nation's long history of utilizing its marine resources.

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Iceland has killed more than 160 minke whales since 2003 for research purposes. (Photo courtesy Greenpeace)

The policy will allow Icelandic ships to kill 30 minke whales and nine fin whales annually. The fin whale is listed as endangered by the World Conservation Union, but Icelandic officials dispute the notion that the species is in peril.

They say there are more than 25,000 fin whales in its coastal waters and more than 43,000 minke whales.

"The taking of threatened or endangered whales is certainly not justified and is strongly opposed by Iceland," according to a statement by the Icelandic Fisheries Ministry. "On the other hand, sustainable takes of animals from abundant populations are consistent with the principle of sustainable development."

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Critics of whale hunting argue people would much rather watch whales than eat them. (Photo courtesy IFAW)

Norway is the only other country that sanctions commercial whale hunts - this year it issued permits allowing whalers to kill 1,052 minke whales.

Permits for the commercial whale hunts could be issued by Wednesday, Icelandic officials said, with whaling ships ready to set sail later this week. The meat will mostly be consumed domestically, they said, but some could be exported.

Critics said the decision makes little economic sense as there is little demand for whale meat in Iceland.

"Iceland has no market for whale meat, but they do have a huge and far more valuable market for whale watching," said Greenpeace campaigner Sarah Duthie.

The British government called on Iceland to reconsider its decision and echoed the belief that the country should focus on ecotourism, rather than commercial whale hunting.

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Fin whales, the world's second largest whale, are still considered endangered. (Photo by Lori Mazzuco courtesy NOAA)

"In the past year, thousands of visitors from overseas (over 70.000 were British) have experienced the joy and excitement of sailing off the coast of Iceland to see whales swimming in their natural habitat," according to a statement released by British officials.

Iceland agreed to the global moratorium on commercial whaling in 1985 and stopped killing whales for research purposes four years later. But in 2003 it decided to resume whale hunts as part of a study of local marine ecosystems, a move widely condemned by environmentalists and many other members of the International Whaling Commission (IWC).

Icelandic officials said 161 minke whales have been killed under the terms of the research plan, with another 39 to be caught through next year.

Japan also hunts whales for scientific research - last year alone it caught 850 minke whales and 10 fin whales as part of its research program.

Critics contend both Japan and Iceland have used the thinly veiled guise of research to hunt whales, as the meat is sold commercially.

Iceland's decision follows the adoption of a pro-whaling declaration at the June meeting of the IWC.

Although the declaration was non-binding, opponents of whale hunting worried that it demonstrates the continued determination of a few nations - notably Norway, Japan and Iceland - to resume commercial hunts. To officially end the IWC ban on commercial whaling, 75 percent of the commission would have to support the decision.