Icelanders to resume hunting for whales
By Jenny Booth
News – Telegraph .co.uk
27th May 2003
Iceland is planning to restart its slaughter of whales with a lethal scientific research programme that will lead to full-scale commercial whaling.
Stefan Asmundsson, the Icelandic whaling commissioner, confirmed that his country intends to kill 250 whales a year for two years to study how many cod the huge mammals are eating.
Its ships will catch 100 fin and 50 sei whales, which are listed as endangered, as well as 100 of the more common minke whales, whose population in the North Atlantic is not under threat.
Iceland stopped commercial whaling in 1989 but hopes to restart by 2006.
Animal welfare groups condemned the move, and accused hunters of planning to use the cold harpoon to kill whales, a non-explosive spear that results in a slow, cruel death, particularly for very large whales such as fin. Iceland denied the claim.
Iceland will join Norway and Japan as the only countries to circumvent the global ban on commercial whaling imposed by the International Whaling Commission (IWC) in 1986 to protect endangered species from extinction.
After a whale killed for research has been dissected, its meat and blubber are sold. Animal welfare groups claim that profit, rather than science, is the point of Japan's research programme, and is the motive for Iceland's move.
Iceland's research proposals will be discussed at the IWC's scientific committee meeting, which started yesterday in Berlin.
Mr Asmundsson said that while his country had submitted its scheme to the committee for constructive criticism, it had no intention of abandoning its plan.
"Every country has the right to conduct scientific whaling," he added.
"It is no secret that we aim to restart commercial whaling in the future, and that that will have an important economic impact on various small fishing communities, but that is not what we are talking about now.
"The driving force behind this isn't so much the whaling as the fisheries. Whales are very big and there's a lot of them, so they are quite obviously having an impact on fish stocks.
"We estimate we could probably be catching 10 to 20 per cent more cod if we bring the whale stocks down to the optimum level. But those percentages are not based on sound scientific evidence, so our research programme is intended to get better data."
Research scientists had to kill the whales to count the fish in their stomachs, as they could not simply "ask the whale what it ate for dinner", said Mr Asmundsson. He insisted that fin and sei were abundant in Icelandic waters, and not endangered. But Laila Sadler, the RSPCA's scientific officer on marine wildlife, said both fin and sei were listed as endangered species by the World Conservation Union. Fin whales were so large - second only to the blue whale in size and weight - that they were very hard to kill humanely.
"The real purpose of this is to sell the meat," said Miss Sadler.
"Fin whales are the second largest species in the world, and 100 of them is a hell of a lot of meat. Norwegian scientists may say that stocks are abundant in the North Atlantic, but both fin and sei are listed as endangered."
Miss Sadler said Iceland's one whaling company traditionally killed with the cold harpoon, a large spear fired into the whale, which allegedly kills instantly in less than 20 per cent of cases, leaving the rest to die of their injuries. Norwegian whalers use explosive harpoons, which kill instantly in up to 80 per cent of cases. Mr Asmundsson denied that Iceland would use the cold harpoon.
The IWC was established in 1946 to regulate the whaling industry.
It has been split for years between the whaling nations, which argue that stocks are recovering and the global ban should be lifted, and countries such as Australia which believe whaling should be banned forever.
Dr Susan Lieberman, the director of the World Wide Fund for Nature's species programme, accused Iceland of a cynical sham. "This is a needless proposal based on a lack of scientific necessity or legitimacy. If this whaling goes ahead, it is clear that it is for commercial purposes."
A spokesman for the IWC said Iceland had to prove that its research was necessary.
21th May 2002: Japan's fight to resume whaling suffers setback
27th July 2001: Plan to cut whaling dropped
29th May 1999: Move to ease whaling ban is rejected