Iceland suspends whale hunt on animal welfare concerns

A whaling ship brings two Fin whales to base in Hvalfjordur, Iceland June 19, 2009AFP

Iceland’s government said Tuesday it was suspending this year’s whale hunt until the end of August due to animal welfare concerns, likely bringing the controversial practice to a historic end.

“I have taken the decision to suspend whaling” until 31 August, food minister Svandis Svavarsdottir said in a statement, after a government-commissioned report concluded the hunt does not comply with Iceland’s Animal Welfare Act.

The country’s last remaining whaling company, Hvalur, had previously said this would be its final season as the hunt has become less profitable.

Iceland’s whaling season runs from mid-June to mid-September, and it is doubtful Hvalur would head out to sea that late in the season.

Annual quotas authorise the killing of 209 fin whales—the second-longest marine mammal after the blue whale—and 217 minke whales, one of the smallest species.

But catches have gone down drastically in recent years due to a dwindling market for whale meat.

Iceland, Norway and Japan are the only countries in the world that have continued whale hunting in the face of fierce criticism from environmentalists and animal rights’ defenders.

A recent monitoring report by the Food and Veterinary Authority on the fin whale hunt found that the killing of the animals took too long based on the main objectives of the Animal Welfare Act.

Shocking video clips recently broadcast by the veterinary authority showed a whale’s agony as it was hunted for five hours.

“If the government and licensees cannot guarantee welfare requirements, these activities do not have a future,” the minister said.

Opposition to whaling has been on the rise in Iceland with a majority now in favour of dropping the practice, a recent poll showed.