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Iceland's Decision to Resume Whaling Raises Ethical and Environmental Concerns

As Iceland declares its intention to lift the suspension on whaling licences, Luke McMillan​​​​, Head of Hunting and Captivity at Whale and Dolphin Conservation, explains why this decision has ignited concerns for the welfare of these magnificent creatures.

September 2023

In a concerning turn of events, Iceland recently declared its intention to lift the suspension on whaling licences, allowing the practice to resume this month. This decision has ignited concerns among global conservationists and environmental advocates. Not only does this choice imperil the lives of these magnificent creatures, but it also undermines the collective international endeavour to safeguard dwindling whale populations.

Whales, owing to their remarkable cognitive capabilities and intricate social dynamics, merit treatment founded in respect and empathy. The decision to reinstate whaling in Iceland contradicts a substantial body of scientific evidence that underscores the appalling conditions these creatures face during the hunting process. Scientific research unequivocally asserts that humanely ending the life of a whale in open water is a near-impossibility. Thus, subjecting these sentient beings to the brutality of whaling amounts to a grave moral transgression that modern ethical standards vehemently oppose.

New Regulations for Improved Animal Welfare

Iceland's decision to resume whaling has come with a set of new regulations aimed at improving the humane treatment of animals during long-range fisheries, see bottom of page. These regulations apply specifically to whaling activities and aim to minimise the suffering of fin whales and ensure their quick and humane killing. 

While these regulations seek to address some ethical concerns and improve the welfare of fin whales, including ensuring quicker deaths, the fundamental issue of whether whaling can ever truly be humane remains a topic of debate. Additionally, the decision to resume whaling, particularly targeting vulnerable species like fin whales, raises questions about Iceland's commitment to conservation and sustainability. These regulations do not provide a comprehensive solution to the complex moral and ecological dilemmas posed by whaling.

Importantly, a thriving planet fundamentally hinges on the well-being of its oceans, and a flourishing marine environment necessitates the presence and well-being of whales. The choice to revive whaling puts Iceland's reputation as an environmentally conscious nation into question, casting doubts on its commitment to sustainable practices. There clearly needs to be a re-evaluation of the pivotal role ethical practices play in safeguarding our oceans and the diverse life forms they sustain.

The revival of whaling in Iceland marks a regrettable step backward in the ongoing global struggle to ensure a future for our oceans that is both sustainable and compassionate. It is the hope that Iceland will revisit its decision, opting for a path that harmonises with the principles of environmental stewardship and responsible conservation.

Luke McMillan​​​​ is Head of Hunting and Captivity at Whale and Dolphin Conservation, follow @whalesorg

The opinions expressed in this blog are held by the authors and not necessarily those of the wider Link membership.


Key provisions in Iceland’s new regulations include:

Equipment Standards: Vessels intended for fin whale hunting must be equipped with specific fishing equipment, including a whaling gun, ship-fixed firing lines, a firing line basket, and an illuminated point on the whaling gun. Harpoon bombs are required to ensure immediate death.

Hunting Conditions: Fin whale hunting must occur during daylight and under conditions likely to result in immediate death, considering factors like wave height, weather conditions, and visibility.

Monitoring and Reporting: There are rigorous inspection and reporting requirements to ensure compliance with animal welfare standards. The Food and Veterinary Authority and the Directorate of Fisheries are responsible for monitoring and collecting data, which must be submitted regularly.

Training and Education: Crew members involved in whaling must have experience in whaling activities. Specialised training in whaling gun handling, killing methods, biology, and animal welfare is also mandated.

Quality Manual: Licensees must maintain a quality manual outlining procedures for screening whale calves, estimating animal length, conducting re-shots, and handling reportable incidents. These procedures aim to minimise animal suffering and ensure swift killing.

Record-Keeping: Detailed records must be maintained for each fishing trip, including information on harpoons, shot times, crew, weather conditions, shooting angles, firing distances, animal lengths, screening for whale calves, and the presence of other animals.