Monday, October 14, 2013


by Jonny Zwick @jonnyswick on Twitter HOW DOES ICELAND GET AWAY WITH HUNTING WHALES? • The International Whaling Committee (IWC) placed an international moratorium on whaling in 1986. Iceland found a loophole by creating a four-year research program so they could “provide advice” on future quotas. They whaled from 1986-1989 before officially cutting all ties with the IWC in 1992. Iceland rejoined in 2002 with a legally disputed reservation against the moratorium and began scientific whaling again in 2003 with a five-year “research” program. In 2009, just as the Icelandic government was voted out of office, the fisheries embarked on yet another five-year plan. The hunting was interrupted in 2011 by the devastating tsunami in Japan, which damaged whale-processing facilities. The 2013 season has now concluded, bringing an end to the five-year program. The Marine Research Institute will now provide advice to the government to help them decide whether or not there will be a whaling season in Iceland next year. • The Marine Research Institute is a governmental organization in Iceland. Scientists at MRI determine the quotas for whale hunting each year and collect population data on the whales that inhabit the Icelandic coastlines. QUOTAS, KILLS, AND RESEARCH: These statistics need to be prefaced. I understand that the following numbers reflected by the quotas may seem insignificant compared to the total populations of these two species of cetaceans, but we must remember the past. Humans have already driven whales to the brink of extinction many times. These giant marine mammals are currently facing more threats to their well-being than ever before. Pollution, depletion of food sources, loss of habitat, ship strikes, climate change, toxic waste, fishing net entanglement, and noise pollution are just a few, so how can humans justify tacking on one more to the list. FIN WHALES: • The quota for endangered fin whales was 184 this season. 134 were caught. • By comparison, 129 fin whales were caught in 2009 and 148 were caught in 2010. • The combined quota for all the past five years was 770 fin whales. Only 404, or 53%, were taken due to the missed seasons after the Japanese tsunami. • MRI proposes that in 2014 and 2015 a maximum of 154 fin whales are to be hunted annually around Iceland. • IWC estimated in 2000 that there were 50,000 fin whales in the North-Atlantic Ocean and that as many as 25,800 of those live in the ocean around Iceland, Greenland, Jan Mayen and the Faeroes. MINKE WHALES: • The quota for minke whales was set at 229 this season. 38 were killed. The small number is mostly due to terrible weather conditions and the brief implementation of a whale sanctuary (discussed below). • MRI has proposed that in 2014 and 2015 a maximum of 350 minke whales are to be hunted annually around Iceland. • The last two surveys on minke whale populations were conducted in 2001 and 2007. 2001 - estimated 40,000 minke whales in North Atlantic 2007 – estimated 20,000 minke whales in North Atlantic *Scientists attribute this drop to distribution of prey to colder waters. The most disturbing aspect of the scientific research that is done in Iceland is the fact that the scientists simply can’t study the animals well enough to make these estimations. The following quotations were made by Gisli Vikingsson, head of whale studies at the Marine Research Institute in Iceland (AKA the guy who determines the quotas): “We are so behind that we don’t know basic things like where they are in the winter. And what their migration routes are and such and this is because whales are extremely hard to study in that respect.” “Unfortunately in the last major survey, we couldn’t cover the whole population area well enough to be able to come up with reliable estimates for the whole area.” “Unfortunately our whale survey in these areas could not be conducted properly because of weather and ice conditions in that area.” “Yeah I’m just talking about internationally, the history of whaling is one of the worst examples of exploitation of a natural resource.” Yet, you continue to permit commercial whale hunting and publish population estimates, Mr. Vikingsson? WHO IS WHALING? FIN WHALES: • Hvalur HF is the only company in Iceland who hunts fin whales. • Kristjan Loftsson is the CEO of Hvalur, and refuses to stop hunting the endangered whales, calling them just another fish in the sea. • Hvalur has two active vessels that are capable of hunting fin whales. • Hvalur employed roughly 150 people this season. MINKE WHALES: • Gunnar Begmann Jonsson is the face of minke whaling. He is the owner of Hrefna HF the lead minke whale meat distributor. • There are four active minke whaling boats in Iceland, most of whom independently hunt whales and sell the meat to Hrefna HF. • At least 50 minke whales need to be caught annually to fulfill the demand for the meat in Iceland for one year. WHALE WATCHING The whale watching industry has emerged as an eco-friendly way to utilize whales for the economic benefit of the country: • Whale watching is the largest tourist attraction in Iceland. • 800,000 tourists visited Iceland this Summer (Iceland pop. = 320,000) • Whale watching companies have calculated that 200,000 people went whale watching in Iceland over the last year. WHALE SANCTUARY: A whale sanctuary was established for the first time this year. The line prohibited whalers from hunting in Reykjavik’s main whale watching area. • Iceland’s new minister of fisheries revoked the line less than two months after it was established. • The sanctuary line was established 12 miles out to sea from Reykjavik harbor in Faxafloi bay. • 80% of minke whales that were hunted last season were killed where the sanctuary would have been. • Minke whalers left Reykjavik and traveled to the most northern area of Iceland after the sanctuary line was implemented. • Whalers were within 2 miles of whale watching vessels, killing the same minke whales that whale watchers were viewing. WHAT IS THE MARKET FOR WHALE MEAT? FIN WHALES: Fin whale meat is solely exported to Japan, although the market has plummeted severely. It has shrunk so rapidly that even primary shareholders in Hvalur have come out and said, “Hey, why the hell are we still doing this?” See link below: (use google chrome to translate) • Loftsson sold 870 tons of fin whale meat to Japan in 2012 . This load of meat was from the 2009/10 hunting season and had been sitting in freezers for two and a half years before it was recently exported. • If the whaling company caught the original quota of 154 fin whales this summer they would have collected a projected 1850 tons of meat. That’s more than twice the amount of meat that took them two and a half years to sell to Japan. • Loftsson is desperate to find any kind of market for the meat. This summer he sold endangered fin whale to a Japanese pet food company, claimed that it could be used as a sexual stimulant in the press, and promoted fin whale oil as an “eco-friendly bio fuel”. MINKE WHALES: Minke whale meat is only sold domestically to restaurants and supermarkets around Iceland. Tourists are conned into believing whaler propaganda that labels whale meat as a traditional dish. Many of them don’t make the connection that they are supporting the slaughter of these animals. • Less than 10% of Icelanders eat whale meat on a regular basis • In a 2009 poll 40% of tourists surveyed admitted to trying minke whale meat while visiting Iceland. • In a 2012 poll 22% of tourists surveyed said they tried the meat. • This drop may be attributed to the fact that 81 minke whales were killed in 2009 and only 52 were caught during 2012, making less meat available. CONCLUDING NOTE: • 58% of Icelanders agree with their countries decision to continue commercial whaling.