Animal welfare activists are increasing calls to ban Iceland’s brutal whale hunts after a new report suggested speared whales can take as long as two hours to die.
The Icelandic food and veterinary authority, along with the Norwegian Fisheries Agency, examined carcasses of fin whales shot by explosive harpoons during whale hunts last year.
Fin whales are the second-largest mammal on Earth after the blue whale and are listed as vulnerable by the International Union for Conservation of Nature. Despite this Iceland’s annual quotas for 2019-23 allowed the hunting of 209 fin whales and 217 minke whales.
Hunter regularly use a grenade-tipped harpoon, fired from a moving ship to hit the whales, which is extremely inaccurate.
Analysis found that almost 40 per cent of the hunted mammals struggled for approximately 11 and a half minutes before they died, while two took more than an hour. A quarter of the fin whales had to be harpooned a second time. Only 59 per cent died instantly. In one case, an animal struggled for two hours before eventually being considered dead.
In addition, of 148 whales killed, 73 per cent were female, with 11 pregnant, and one lactating.
Campaigners described the findings as unacceptable and called on the Icelandic government to halt all whale hunts.
Árni Finnsson, chair of the Iceland Nature Conservation Association, said: ‘This killing is inhumane; it has to stop. There is no economic benefit for Iceland and it undermines the country’s record as a pro-conservation nation.’
The call to end whale hunts received qualified support from a senior government official.
Svandís Svavarsdóttir, Iceland’s Minister of Food, Agriculture and Fisheries, said: ‘This alarming report underscores the need for a discussion in Iceland about the values we want to be known for. I believe that industries incapable of guaranteeing animal welfare should be considered part of our past rather than our future.
‘This report, along with the expert council on animal welfare’s findings, will serve as essential background material for making decisions about the future of whaling post 2023.’
Shameful Whale Hunts
Iceland is one of the few countries that allows commercial whale hunts, along with Norway and Japan, despite a ban on commercial whaling that has been in place since 1986.
In the waters off the island, 148 whales were killed in 2022. The hunting of 58 whales was filmed and analysed by experts. It showed, of the 36 whales shot more than once, five whales were shot three times and four whales were shot four times. One whale with a harpoon in its back was chased for five hours but seemed to escape – only to most likely die later.
However, Svavarsdóttir said last year that the country planned to end whaling from 2024 as demand dwindled. Last August, the ministry issued a regulation requiring the food and veterinary authority (MAST) to carry out regular inspections of whale hunts, in order to promote animal welfare.
Patrick Ramage, senior director at the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW), said: ‘Whatever their views on whaling, both Icelanders and the international community will be horrified by these findings.
‘No animal – however it is killed – should suffer for such a long time. Whales are sentient, intelligent and complex creatures that suffer both physically and psychologically during this traumatic massacre.
‘There is no humane way to kill a whale at sea. This new evidence underscores how outdated this practice is. It has to end immediately – no one in Iceland is dependent on this meat.’
For similar stories head to our NEWS section