Whaling is an old practice. The giant marine mammals have been hunted by indigenous peoples for their food, blubber, and other resources. Commercial whaling for baleen and blubber began in 1790 and continued into the 20th century.
Many species of whale had been driven to extinction by over-hunting and wasteful practices. Many of these losses have been repaired by subsequent conservation efforts and the International Whaling Commission (IWC). Another step forward is the new Icelandic ban on commercial whale hunting, which will take effect in 2024.
The IWC issued a moratorium in 1986 on whale hunting. Iceland opposed the decision and licensed commercial whale hunting again in 2003. In recent years, however, licensing demand has dropped and licensees have stopped seeking it.
Between 2019 and 2023 the law permits the hunting of 217 minke and 209 fin whales (an endangered species) annually. In the past three years, however, only one whale has been killed–minke. Two other major licensees have also abandoned the hunt. Hunting rights will end in 2023, and they will not be renewed.
While the coronavirus pandemic affected meat-processing plants in Japan, Japan’s return to whale hunting in 2019 has reduced the demand for whale meat exported to Japan. Because of the expansion in protected waters, ships have to travel further out to sea to catch their catch. They are believed to have contributed to the decrease in demand for whale meat.
Not only are whales protected, but many other marine species have been given increased protection. Hawaii was the first state to ban shark-fishing in its state waters. Like the IWC’s national rules, this ban has exceptions for Indigenous hunting techniques.
Indigenous peoples have been longtime defenders of marine life and whales. Ending high-volume whale hunting is a positive step in protecting marine life and encouraging responsible use of marine resources.
Due to the declining demand for whale meat, Iceland will stop whale hunting in 2024.
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