Icelandic whalers processing a whale in the 16th century. Original text: AM345fol Institute of Árni Magnússon

Iceland is among the few countries in the world to hunt whales commercially, and it announced in February its plan to end the practice from 2024 – even if it has not officially banned it yet. The decision has been influenced by a falling demand for whale meat, especially since Japan resumed commercial whaling (2019), but experts also give credit to a campaign carried out by Icelanders and local whale-watching companies (IFAW and IceWhale) over fifteen years. Whaling has been practised in Iceland since the early 1600s, but it only turned into a large commercial scale hunt during the 19th century. Iceland stopped both commercial whaling (1985) and scientific whaling (1989) under the international moratorium on commercial hunts, but commercial whaling resumed in 2006 with current annual quotas that allow for 209 fin whales to be killed in Iceland to be sent to Japan, along with 217 minke whales, which are eaten domestically. ‘Domestically’ actually means ‘by the tourists‘, as only 2% of Icelanders regularly eat it: unfortunately, many of the country’s roughly 2 million annual visitors believe that whale is an Icelandic speciality. The “Meet us, don’t eat us” campaign has had a big influence on the government’s approach to whaling, as it is now evident that a whale brings more economic benefits alive, rather than a dead: whale watching is a booming business, and tour companies have played a large role in the campaign to end whaling. Conservationists are now exploring ways to make whale tourism sustainable, as it is in other whale-watching destinations, such as New Zealand or Canada. Sadly, there are people like Kristján Loftsson, owner of Hvalur, that will restart whaling for four months this summer for the first time in four years.

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