Iceland Resumes Whaling

In August, Iceland resumed limited whaling for “scientific” purposes.

At this summer’s meeting of the International Whaling Commission, Iceland had floated a proposal that would have allowed it to kill more than 200 whales annually for scientific research purposes along the same lines as Japan’s current whaling efforts.

That proposal was soundly rejected. However, when Iceland rejoined the International Whaling Commission a couple years ago, it stipulated that it reserved the right to pursue small-scale scientific research whaling. Coming off the defeat of its proposal for scientific whaling, Iceland informed IWC members in August that it would kill 38 minke whales as part of its research efforts.

The move was widely condemned in anti-whaling nations. U.S. State Department spokesman Richard Boucher, for example, said of the move,

We’re extremely disappointed with Iceland’s decision to begin a lethal research whaling program, which anticipates taking 38 minke whales. Although the program is technically legal under the Whaling Convention, we’ve said many times that lethal research on whales is not necessary and the needed scientific data can be obtained by well-established, non-lethal means.

The taking of whales by Iceland will likely trigger a review by the Department of Commerce of Iceland’s lethal scientific whaling process program for possible certification under the Pelly Amendment.

Under the Pelly Amendment, a finding that Iceland’s scientific whaling program is undermining international conservation efforts aimed at sustaining the population of minke whales could result in bans on the importation of goods from Iceland (don’t hold your breath for that to happen, however).

Iceland’s representative to the International Whaling Commission, Stefan Asmundsson, told the Associated Press that his country expected to encounter a lot of opposition to its resumption of whaling,

We knew beforehand there would be countries who would object and we knew that this research was going to cost us a lot of money to carry out. Regardless of these facts, we believe that it is so important that we simply cannot afford not to do it.

There has been some talk of consumer boycotts of products from Iceland, but polls within that country suggest that upwards of two-thirds of the people there support the resumption of whaling.

This could be the precursor to something even bigger. Many observers did not expect Iceland to resume whaling at all until after 2006, when Iceland has said it reserves the right to resume commercial whaling.

If Iceland does decide to resume whaling in 2006, the anti-whaling forces in the IWC will have won a pyrrhic victory. They will have kept the IWC on record as opposing any resumption of commercial whaling, while pushing Iceland and potentially other countries to resume whaling outside of the IWC’s jurisdiction and oversight.


Another Contentious International Whaling Commission Meeting

This summer’s meeting of the International Whaling Commission was against contentious as Japan and other pro-whaling nations squared off against anti-whaling nations that saw Japan threatening to leave the organization.

Japan went to the IWC seeking approval to expand its research whaling, which is frequently criticized by environmentalists and anti-whaling nations as being little more than commercial whaling in disguise. In 2002, Japan caught 590 minke whales, 50 Byrde’s whales, 50 Sei whales and 10 sperm whales as part of its research whaling program.

Currently Japan is allowed to harvest 50 Minke whales in its coastal waters, and it sought approval to triple that quota to 150 whales. It also wanted to expand its research whaling program to include catching Byrde’s whales in the northwestern Pacific. Both proposals were turned down solid majorities of the anti-whaling countries.

The IWC did pass a non-binding resolution condemning Japan’s research whaling program and asking it to stop the practice. Japan said it would ignore the resolution.

Meanwhile, anti-whaling countries wanted to establish a new whale sanctuaries in the South Pacific and South Atlantic. Both proposals were blocked by Japan and other pro-whaling countries.

The IWC did manage to approve creation of a new conservation committee to look at ways to expand the IWC’s conservation activities. That angered Japan which threatened to withhold funding for the committee and elicited new threats from Japan to leave the IWC altogether. If it chose to do so, it would no longer be bound by IWC rules.

Japan’s chief cabinet secretary Yasuo Fukuda was quoted by the Financial Times of London as complaining that the creation of the conservation committee, “goes against the basic goals of the IWC. The issue must be approached from the viewpoint of conservation and use.”

Meanwhile, Iceland continued to move forward with plans to start its own research whaling program modeled on Japan’s program, which further threatens the continuing ban on commercial whaling.


Hunt fails to ease frustrations. Hans Greimel, Associated Press, July 10, 2003.

IWC blocks Japan bid to triple coastal whale-hunting quota. Japan Times, June 20, 2003.

Dead porpoises disrupt Berlin whaling meeting. Reuters, June 19, 2003.

Japan helps block proposals for new whale sanctuary. Bayan Rahman and Hugh Williamson, Financial Times (London), June 18, 2003.

Saving the whale, again. Syndey Morning Herald, June 18, 2003.

Japanese whaling bid blocked. The Daily Telegraph (London), June 19, 2003.

Gov’t intends to continue ‘research whaling.’ Japan Times, June 19, 2003.

Iceland Announces Plans to Resume Whaling

Iceland announced in April that it plans to renew whaling under the same pretense as Japan — i.e. that the whaling will be for research. Under the terms of the 1986 moratorium on commercial whaling, the International Whaling Commission allow its members to kill as many whales as it wants for research purposes.

Iceland says it plans to catch 100 minke whales, 100 fin whales, and 50 sei whales over two years, beginning sometime in 2003 or 2004.

Along with Japan, it would join Norway — which is exempt from the commercial whaling ban and never stopped commercial whaling — as the only three countries killing significant numbers of whales.

Iceland could also begin straightforward commercial whaling at any time, although it says that it will not do so until at least 2006. Iceland left the IWC in 1992, and was readmitted by just a single vote in 2002 (and even then, only because the Swedish represenative to the IWC misunderstood a procedural challenge that allowed the vote to take place). As part of its readmission, it was also allowed to lodge an objection to the 1986 moratorium which, along with Norway, renders it exempt from the moratorium.

Iceland also rejects portions of a number of conventions that deal with whales. It joined CITES in 2000, but objected to the ban on trade in the blue whale. It also objects to the listing of the Northern right whale under the Berne Convention, of which it is also a party. Both objections mean that Iceland is not bound by the terms of those conventions as they apply to those species.

Iceland has apparently worked out a deal with Japan to accept whale products from Iceland, without which there would not be a market for the number of whales Iceland is considering killing.


Iceland’s whale hunting plans arouse suspicions. Reuters, April 5, 2003.

Iceland bids to resume whaling. The BBC, April 3, 2003.

Iceland Plans to Catch Hundreds of Large Whales. Environmental News Service, April 4, 2003.

Iceland Restored to International Whaling Commission

In a stunning turnaround due in large part to a misunderstanding over procedural maneuvers, the International Whaling Commission voted 19 to 18 this month to readmit Iceland.

Iceland quit the commission in 1992 and has had its efforts to rejoin the commission blocked by countries angered at Iceland’s plan to recommence commercial whaling in 2006. According to the New York Times, Iceland’s readmittance was largely the result of the Swedish delegation misunderstanding a procedural challenge by Antigua and Barbuda. In its confusion, the Swedish delegation ended up mistakenly voting in favor of a motion that led to Iceland’s readmission.

“We were not prepared in substance to accept Iceland as a member,” Carl Erik Ehrenkronoa of the Swedish Foreign Ministry told the Times, “but it happened anyway.”

As the Times notes, whaling countries are using the same tactics that anti-whaling forces used to enact the worldwide ban on whaling. In the late 1980s and early 1990s, numerous anti-whaling countries joined the commission and the result was the ban.

Now Japan and other pro-whaling countries are encouraging (and, in some cases, outright bribing them) to join and tip the scales the other way. In the lead up to the ban, it was countries such as Switzerland and Austria who joined and tipped the balance toward the ban on whaling. Now countries like Benin, Gabon and Mongolia are joining, and all are solidly in the pro-whaling camp thanks to Japan’s promises of aid to such countries in exchange for their votes on the commission.

Iceland’s readmittance is a likely turning point, given that Iceland says that in 2006 it will join Norway in openly defying the worldwide ban on commercial whaling.

Overturning the ban on whaling is a long way off, given that it would take a 3/4 vote of the commission, but Rune Frovik, spokesman for a Norwegian whaling association told the Times that there was still a lot of value in just a simple majority,

You can do a lot with a simple majority. For many years, the commission has passed what we call hate resolutions calling on Norway and Japan to stop whaling. Soon they might not be able to pass those resolutions.

This change should make the next meeting of the IWC a bit more interesting.


Iceland joins whale panel, giving whalers stronger say. Walter Gibbs, The New York Times, October 20, 2002.

Iceland's Membership in IWC Rejected; Threatens to Resume Whale Hunts

This year’s meeting of the 56-year-old International Whaling Commission started with a bang when the 48-country commission voted to deny Iceland membership. Iceland’s delegation responded by walking out of the meeting and threatening to resume commercial whaling with or without IWC approval.

Iceland was a member of the IWC until 1992 when its delegates pulled out of a meeting due to the IWC’s anti-whaling stance. Since then it has been relegated to having observer status.

It has been kept out of the IWC for one reason — if Iceland is admitted, pro-whaling countries would likely have enough votes to open discussion about lifting the ban on commercial whaling. Anti-whaling countries have demanded that Iceland accept the ban on whaling as a precondition for rejoining the IWC.

Asked about the possibility of his country resuming commercial whaling, Iceland Whaling Commissioner Stefan Asmundsson said, “From the political point of view, it is much better to do it within the framework of the international organization. We were hoping to do this within the IWC.”

The IWC also rejected Japan’s request to kill an addition 50 whales annually for research purposes. On the other hand, pro-whaling nations failed in their attempts to create new whale sanctuaries in the South Pacific and South Atlantic, which drew the ire of British Fisheries minister Elliot Morley who said,

There’s no doubt whale-watching eclipses the whaling industry. . . . [Japan’s harvesting of whales is] the kind of unstable approach to whaling which threatens to collapse this whole enterprise. Particularly when countries like Japan treat science with such contempt.

Japan threatened to remove Japanese scientists from the IWC’s scientific committee after losing the vote to harvest more whales.


Iceland hints it may hunt whales as summit falters. Richard Lloyd Parry, The Independent (London), May 22, 2002.

Iceland quits whaling conference: Country threatens to resume hunt. Associated Press, May 21, 2002.

Iceland Plans to Resume Whaling; Voting Rights Revoked

At the International Whaling Commission meeting in London, Iceland’s voting rights were revoked after that country refused to recognize the 15-year old moratorium on commercial whaling. Before the meeting began, Iceland’s whaling commissioner had said that Iceland would resume commercial whaling of minke and fin whales within that country’s coastal waters.

Iceland’s parliament voted to resume whaling as soon as possible in 1999, and a resumption of whaling has wide support on the island nation of 250,000.

Iceland maintains that the IWC lacks the authority to revoke its voting privileges. This could be an extremely important development since many observers believe that Japan and Norway have finally garnered enough support to overturn the moratorium in commercial whaling. Any decision to overturn the moratorium would require approval by 75 percent of IWC members.

Norway objected to the moratorium and is not bound by it — it kills about 500 minke whales every year.

The moratorium on hunting minke and gray whales is almost certainly going to collapse very soon as both species’ populations have recovered to the point where it is becoming increasingly difficult for the IWC to justify the moratorium on scientific grounds.


Iceland set to resume whaling. Richard Middleton, Associated Press, July 21, 2001.

Angry split at whaling meeting. The BBC, July 23, 2001.