Iceland sounds death knell for whaling a month after Leo Varadkar’s criticism

Leo Varadkar raised the issue with his counterpart, Katrín Jakobsdóttir, in a bilateral meeting during the Council of Europe meeting in Reykjavík last month.

He said Ireland was a whale sanctuary, and was seeing the benefits. Iceland’s whale-watching industry is worth at least three times more than its blubber trade.

Iceland has now decreed a suspension of whaling this summer season. It is one of only three countries in the world – including Japan and Norway – that still openly hunts whales, although a secret industry may still operate in Russia, which has a long history of disguising its sea slaughter.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar (Photo: Gareth Chaney/Collins Photos)

The Iceland move comes after the Government’s own report concluded the annual hunt does not comply with Iceland’s Animal Welfare Act.

It followed research showing the killing of the animals was not instantaneous, with whales taking hours to die after they had been harpooned. Only a shot through the skull with an explosive charge killed the animal outright.

Iceland has only one remaining whaling company, Hvalur, and its license to hunt fin whales expires later this year. The prime minister indicated to Mr Varadkar that it was unlikely to be renewed.

Another company ceased operations in 2020, saying it was no longer profitable – but Iceland has facilitated Norwegian whaling.

Iceland’s annual quotas have authorized the killing of 209 fin whales – the second-longest after the blue whale – and 217 minke whales. But catches have fallen drastically in recent years due to overfishing and slackening demand.

The Taoiseach said he wanted to see an end to whaling worldwide when he attended a Council of Europe summit in Reykjavík.

He pointed out the inconsistency of running hugely-popular whale-watching tours from ports like Húsavík and Akureyri while simultaneously seeking to kill whales for profit.

Iceland prime minister Katrin Jakobsdottir. Photo: AP

Mr Varadkar said: “As you know, in Ireland our seas are essentially a whale sanctuary. And we’ve seen the emergence of whales and dolphins and other sea life in recent years.

“That’s been great to see and it is an important part of tourism, and also for biodiversity.

“I would like to see an end to the practice of whaling. But we understand, obviously, that different countries make their own decisions.”

Experts say Iceland’s suspension of this year’s whale hunting is effectively likely to bring the controversial practice to an end.

Animal rights groups and environmentalists hailed the decision, with the Humane Society International calling it “a major milestone in compassionate whale conservation”.

“There is no humane way to kill a whale at sea, and so we urge the minister to make this a permanent ban,” the Humane Society International’s executive director for Europe, Ruud Tombrock, said.

“Whales already face so many serious threats in the oceans from pollution, climate change, entanglements in fish nets and ship strikes, that ending cruel commercial whaling is the only ethical conclusion.”

The decision was also a huge blow to other whaling nations.

“If whaling can’t be done humanely here… it can’t be done humanely anywhere,” said Robert Read, head of the campaign group Sea Shepherd.

“Whales are architects for the ocean. They help boost biodiversity, and they help fight climate change by affecting the carbon cycling process.”

A survey published in Iceland earlier this month indicated that 51pc were opposed to the hunt and only 29pc was in favour.

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