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A critical moment for the whales of Iceland

Luke McMillan

Luke McMillan

Luke is WDC's head of hunting and captivity.

The fate of Iceland’s whales hangs in the balance.  The last remaining whaling company in Iceland has applied for a ten-year hunting licence. But there’s a glimmer of hope. The new fisheries minister, Bjarkey Olsen Gunnarsdóttir, has an opportunity to end the hunts once and for all. And we’re urging her to do the right thing.

Reflecting on my first year working for WDC, one pivotal moment stands out: the release of the 2023 MAST report (MAST is The Icelandic Food and Veterinary Authority). It was my second day at WDC when this groundbreaking report, issued by Iceand’s government, exposed the grim realities and violations of animal welfare laws during the 2022 hunts, igniting a wave of international outrage and advocacy.

The MAST report revealed that one whale was found to have been chased for five hours without being killed. ©  Hard to Port
The MAST report revealed that one whale was found to have been chased for five hours without being killed. © Hard to Port

A moment of safety

The findings of the MAST report served as a catalyst for action, prompting swift measures to address the huge amount of cruelty associated with Iceland's whaling practices. Thanks to our relentless efforts, our incredible supporters and the work of passionate advocates within Iceland, whaling operations were temporarily suspended for June and July saving the lives of approximately 120 majestic fin whales.

Fin whale
Let's make sure no whale ever faces a harpoon again.

The respite was short-lived

In September 2023, whaling operations resumed under the guise of improved methods and practices. Despite assurances from Hvalur hf, Iceland’s only whaling company, the reality painted a starkly different picture. Within days of the hunt's recommencement, tragedy struck once again. Hvalur 8, one of the whaling vessels, was suspended for breaching regulations after one whale endured a harrowing death, suffering from multiple harpoon strikes.

Fin-whale shot-twice
No whale should have to suffer like this. © Hard To Port

The horror continued as a nearly full-term pregnant fin whale was killed, and the cruel act of dragging her calf from her womb at the whaling station epitomised the brutality of Iceland's whaling industry. Then, another fin whale was lost at sea, left to bleed to death or drown - a stark reminder of the inherent risks and consequences of this outdated practice. By October, when the hunts ended, 25 sentient beings had fallen victim to the harpoons.

Whaling ship Hvalur 8 arrives at the whaling station with two fin whales

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As we anxiously await the release of the latest MAST report, which covers the shortened September 2023 hunts, memories of last year's revelations come flooding back. We anticipate that this report will paint a similarly grim picture, underscoring the urgent need for action to end this cruel industry once and for all.

The whaler strikes again

But, even with the majority of the Icelandic public wanting the hunts to end, the last remaining whaler, a millionaire named Kristján Loftsson, has recently submitted applications to hunt hundreds more fin and minke whales. He’s one of the most powerful and influential people in Iceland and if he stops whaling, Iceland stops whaling and fin whales of the Atlantic Ocean are finally safe from harpoons. But if granted, these licences could extend for a staggering 10 years, perpetuating the cycle of exploitation and cruelty that has plagued Iceland's waters for far too long.

This whaling vessel should never be allowed to return to sea.
This whaling vessel should never be allowed to return to sea.

Glimmers of hope

As Iceland’s government grapples with whether or not to grant new whaling licences, there is an opportunity for change. Iceland has a new fisheries minister, Bjarkey Olsen Gunnarsdóttir, and she has the power to end whaling for good by refusing to grant Loftsson’s company a licence. We’ve been urging her to reject his application and take a stand for the welfare of Iceland's whales. We hope that she will take the brave step to ban whaling, based on a previous statement she made in parliament:

'There are few indications that whaling will ever regain industrial status, and it is even less likely that such hunting will gain recognition from international organisations in the field of environmental protection.'

- Minister Bjarkey Gunnarsdóttir

Rewriting history

Minister Bjarkey, isn’t the only individual that has given us a feeling of optimism that the end of whaling is near. An independent working group has been established in Iceland and they’re dedicated to reviewing Icelandic whaling laws. The thing is, these outdated laws date back to the 1940s and haven’t been updated for 75 years. In that time, we’ve learnt so much about whales such as the vital roles they play in tackling the climate and biodiversity crises and the fact that they are thinking, sentient beings with complex emotional lives. These laws no longer reflect the values of a modern society committed to animal welfare and conservation, and there is a growing consensus throughout the Icelandic population that they must be changed to protect Iceland's whales from further harm.

We hope that the latest MAST report combined with the recommendations of the working group will leave no doubt in the mind of the Icelandic government, that whaling has no place, and should be banned.

Whales help the ocean produce more oxygen and absord more carbon than all of Earth's forests

Together, we will stop whaling in Iceland

As always, collaboration lies at the heart of our efforts to combat whaling in Iceland. By joining forces with like-minded organisations, we’re amplifying our collective voices and sending a powerful message of solidarity and compassion. Together, we stand united in our love for whales and our unwavering condemnation of whaling practices.

Kattrin Oddsdottir holding t-shirt saying Save the whale. Save the world.
I stood shoulder to shoulder with the antiwhaling community in Reykjavik calling for and end to the hunts.
WDC standing in solidarity with Icelandic anti-whalers in Reykjavik

We're working within Iceland to stop the hunts.

We’re proud to support these efforts not only through advocacy and outreach, but by providing funding for crucial legal work aimed at challenging the legality of whaling in Iceland. As we navigate the complexities of this ongoing struggle, we draw strength from our supporters and the knowledge that every action we take brings us one step closer to a future where whales are free to roam the ocean, safe from harm and exploitation.

Fin whale head
On behalf of the fin whales, thank you for your support.

The truth about Icelandic whaling

  • The majority of Icelanders are against whaling.
  • Less than 2% of Icelanders eat whale meat.
  • 40% of whales do not die instantly.  The average time to death is 11.5 minutes and one whale in the study took two hours and multiple harpoons to die.
  • Hvalur hf. has been fined multiple times for horrendous animal welfare violations.
  • Hvalur hf. has lost £17 million over the last decade due to whaling – it is NOT profitable to the Icelandic economy.
  • Whaling causes significant suffering and breaches Icelandic animal welfare laws.
  • Killing whales is ecocide on two counts. The ocean absorbs more carbon than all of Earth’s forests, and whales help that process. A healthy planet needs a healthy ocean and that means more whales not fewer.  Whales are climate giants helping us overcome the climate and biodiversity crises. Whaling also harms the environment by causing pollution and increasing greenhouse gas emissions.
  • Continuing to allow whaling damages Iceland’s international reputation and is incompatible with the country’s global biodiversity obligations.
  • Whaling does not provide long-term job security for employees.


Please help us today with a donation

If you are able to help, every gift, whether large or small, will help us stop whaling for good.