Musings, politics and environmental issues

Posts tagged ‘minke whales’

Whales to be killed commercially in Japan but not Iceland

Well, as some of the workers at the whaling station in Iceland intimated last year, Kristjan Loftsson has decided not to kill fin whales this year. One excuse given was somewhat feeble – they received permission to kill whales too late and it was thus too late to organise everything – but the main reason was that they couldn’t sell the meat that they’d sent to Japan.


The minke whalers have also decided to hunt for sea cucumbers rather than whales this year, apparently “because it suits us better”. They abandoned whaling last year early on in the season. They will import minke whale meat from Norway this year to meet customer requirements. Is anyone protesting whaling in Norway?

This is the first time in 17 years that no whaling of any kind will be happening in Iceland.

Neither Kristjan Loftsson’s company Hvalur hf. nor the minke whale outfit IP-utgerd have excluded the possibility of whaling next year.  But this year at least the whales are safe.

The decision by the two companies provides even more rationale for the fact that the report commissioned by the Icelandic government on whaling was not accurate. The authors said that both minke whaling and fin whaling should be profitable, although they acknowledged that fin whaling wasn’t profitable between and including 2014 and 2017, much of the proceeds going on wages and transport to Japan.

And the minke whalers only caught 17 and 6 minke whales in 2017 and 2018 respectively, which can hardly be profitable. Indeed, the minke whaling company has gone bust more than once.

Some whales are not safe, though. Japan started commercial whaling this morning for the first time in 31 years, with quotas for 52 minke whales, 25 sei whales and 15 Bryde’s whales – 225 whales in total. Some whales have already been caught. According to a report in Japan Times, “the quota was calculated on the basis that it would not adversely impact stocks even if Japan kept hunting the whales for 100 years”. Good grief! 100 years!!!

They intend to kill the whales in nearby waters and in their exclusive economic zone but not in the Antarctic, where they have actually killed more whales annually than are allowed now. Last year, Nanami Kurasawa from the Japanese group IKAN told me that the stopping of “research whaling” in the Antarctic and Southern Hemisphere would mean that Japan would have to give up 333 minke whales from Antarctica, 134 sei whales and 43 minke whales from the North West Pacific. Distributors were worried, she said.

Nevertheless, whale meat consumption in Japan has dropped from over 200,000 tonnes in the 1960s to around 5,000 tonnes last year.

Opposition to whaling mounts in Iceland

The first fin whaling boats were expected to leave Reykjavik harbour today, but for undisclosed reasons their departure has been delayed a week. That didn’t stop a demonstration from happening in front of one of the whaling boats at Reykjavik harbour at lunchtime today. The demonstration, organized at short notice by the Icelandic Vegan & Vegetarian Society (Samtökin grænmetisæta), Vegan Organization (Vegan samtökin), Earth Friends (Jarðarvinur) and Hard to Port, a German activist group, was well attended, with about 40-50 people. Hard to Port will arrive in Iceland in a few days time and will stay all summer, so more demonstrations can be expected. No doubt there will also be a demonstration at the whaling station in Hvalfjordur when the first fin whale is brought back to land.

A possible reason for the delay is that one of the two whaling boats owned by the fin whaling company Hvalur is currently on a nearby slipway. The man behind the fin whaling, Kristjan Loftsson, usually has two boats out at a time.

Although fin whales are being spared at the moment, the same is not true for minke whales as the man behind that enterprise, Gunnar Bergmann Jonsson from IP útgerð, announced last week that their boat Hrafnreyður would start minke whaling last Thursday.  Given that they only caught 17 whales last year, out of a quota of over 200, Jonsson says he’s not sure if the venture is going to pay. I’m sure it won’t.

In a survey on attitudes to whaling carried out by MMR in late April/early May, 34% said they were very opposed or fairly opposed to whaling starting again (fin whaling did not happen in 2016 or 2017), 34% were pro-whaling and 31% said they were neither opposed or supportive of it.  Obviously opinions are very divided, yet opposition is growing as a 2007 survey carried out by Capacent for the Iceland Nature Conservation Association and IFAW in early October, 2007, disclosed that 66.3% agreed with the decision of the outgoing Fisheries Minister of the time, Einar K. Gudfinsson, to allow fin whaling to recommence, 22.6% said they were against it, and only 11.1% said they were neutral about it.

Update, 11 June: The first minke whale has been caught.

Update, 24 July: Minke whaling has stopped. They’ve given up, having caught 6 whales. See this article I wrote for more about opposition to whaling.

Environmental damage in Iceland minimized

The minke whale hunting season for the year has finished, with a final total of 17 whales. That’s their worst catch ever, and they clearly haven’t caught any since the end of July as I updated Minke whaling gets off to a shaky start on August 1 with the news that only 17 whales had been caught this year. They had been hoping to at least equal last year’s catch of 46 whales, and preferably to exceed it.

The main person behind minke whaling, Gunnar Bergmann Jonsson, says that they will “most probably” go out whale killing next year, though the hunting season will be shorter, only two to three months. I can’t see how it’s economical for him to employ people for the season and catch so few. Maybe next year there will be no whaling in Iceland and most of the rest of the world will rejoice, as fin whales have now not been hunted for the last two seasons due to bureaucracy in Japan, not to mention stores of unsold meat.

Another piece of good news is that Silicor Materials has told Icelandic port officials that it no longer intends to build the solar silicon plant in Grundartangi, which had been highly controversial and I had already predicted would not be built. They had had funding problems, amongst other things. The decision will please many people.

The United Silicon plant will remain closed for the next few months – if it ever reopens at all.

Iceland’s oldest aluminium smelter, currently owned by Rio Tinto Alcan and located just outside the Greater Capital Area, is up for sale. Apparently some entities have shown interest – my inkling is that Century Aluminium might be interested, as their proposed aluminium smelter close to the United Silicon smelter has never been completed. But Rio Tinto say that if they can’t find a suitable buyer, they’ll keep the plant.

The other big news, of course, is the fall of the Icelandic government and the election which will now take place on October 28. Apart from the stated reason for the election, which centred around the father of our current Prime Minister signing a letter of support for the clemency of a sex offender, it’s obvious that Bright Future and Vidreisn (Reform) had always been dissatisfied to some extent with working with the Independent Party in the Coalition, both in terms of working procedures and having to water down their politics. Everyone knew the situation was delicate from the start.

Fun and games.


Minke whales still being hunted

Although Kristjan Loftsson from Hvalur announced in late February that fin whales will not be hunted off Iceland this summer (he was the person responsible for this), the smaller minke whales are still being hunted, albeit in small numbers as it’s difficult to find them near Reykjavik where the minke whaling company is based. The first minke whale for the season has now been caught.

The minke whalers use the same bay for catching whales as the whale watchers use, though in theory the whalers must not enter the protected area which the whale watching boats use. Whale watching has become immensely popular, and latest estimates say that the number of tourists going whale-watching this year will exceed the total population of Iceland (about 330,000). Whale-watching is obviously more viable than minke whale hunting, as well as providing more jobs and more government revenue.

The whale-watching companies are pressing for their area to be expanded, but the minke whalers object to this. Given that only 29 minke whales were caught last year, I feel the interests of the whale-watching companies greatly outnumber those of the minke whalers (which now are only represented by one company).


Iceland’s foreign minister says Iceland should kill less whales

Iceland’s foreign minister, Gunnar Bragi Sveinsson, has just realized that some people from some countries are somewhat contemptuous of Iceland because of its whaling activities. Well, maybe contemptuous is a bit strong but Iceland is viewed somewhat negatively by some. He has just said that Iceland should consider cutting down on its whaling activities to appease international society.

What he doesn’t realize is that Iceland will have to stop ALL of its whaling activities if it is to be regarded positively. Reducing whaling is not enough – it has to stop completely. And that goes for both minke whales and fin whales, though international attention is mainly focused on the latter.

Whaling news from Iceland

Well, the first two fin whales have been brought back to the whaling station in Hvalfjordur, Iceland. One of the boats has already headed out to sea again. And as of June 25, 14 minke whales had been caught, though the meat from the first one was discarded due to the strike by veterinarians. Meanwhile, the boat that is carrying Icelandic fin whale meat to Japan, Winter Bay, is moored off the coast of Norway while sea ice along a possible sea route is being investigated.

The global campaigning organization, Avaaz, set up a petition last week to try and stop the boat from leaving port. The boat is sailing under the flag of St Kitts and Nevis, and Avaaz want the nation to remove its flag from the ship as that will mean the boat can’t leave port. At the time of writing, almost 850,000 signatures have been collected.

In Iceland, protestors intend to use drones to follow the whaling boats.

UPDATE: The boat finally left Tromsö last night, August 1, after being moored for 5 weeks. It is going to sail the so-called Northeast passage along the northern edge of Russia, east through the Arctic Ocean and then down to Osaka in Japan. The route is shorter than others that go between Europe and Asia but is prone to becoming blocked by sea ice. So maybe nature will stop the whale meat in its tracks.

UPDATE: The boat arrived in Japan on August 30.

More problems for Icelandic minke whaling company

The only company that was hunting minke whales last year off Iceland, IP Utgerd, has been reprimanded by the Directorate of Fisheries for bypassing the weighing of the majority of the minke whales they caught last season. Out of the 24 whales they caught, 14 were not recorded. The man behind the company concerned, Gunnar Bergmann Jonsson, says that whales are recorded by number caught rather than weight, and that after years of scientific whaling the weight of minke whales should be known. They say they notify the Directorate electronically as soon as a whale is killed. Apparently the unwanted parts of a minke whale are discarded at sea, and only the meat and blubber are brought to land.

If the company bypasses the weighing machine once more within the next two years, they will have their licence retracted. Which could mean that no more minke whales would be caught.

In point of fact, IP Utgerd only utilized 10% of their quota, as they were allowed to hunt 240 whales. Consequently, they have had to import minke whale meat from Norway to supply restaurants and the like within Reykjavik.

UPDATE: Apparently, Japan had to destroy whale meat it got from Norway last year because it contained excessive levels of insecticide. No one thought of testing the Norwegian whale meat imported to Iceland for insecticide, and there is no guarantee that any remaining meat – if there is any – will be tested now.