Weighing in at close to 80 tons, fin whales are the second largest mammal on Earth, after blue whales. They rock a distinctive look: their lower jaws are white on the right side and black on the left. Fin whales live for 80-90 years.
The International Whaling Commission bans killing whales to sell them. The International Union for Conservation includes fin whales on its red list of threatened species, while the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration lists them as endangered throughout their range.
The whales got a reprieve for a couple years when Iceland cancelled its hunts in 2011 and 2012. But its motive wasn’t humane or environmental. It was purely profit-driven: the Japanese economy was on a downturn. Iceland waited until its largest market was again able to pay premium prices for fin whale meat, and the hunting resumed. The target for this year’s hunt is up to 184 fin whales.
In Japan, people still eat fin whale meat, but less than they used to. Increasingly they feed it to their dogs instead, often as jerky. (Michinoku Farm, north of Tokyo, also sells meat from kangaroos and Mongolian horses as dog treats.) There is a glimmer of hope that the Japanese market will shrink, if not dry up entirely. Greenpeace reported in 2009 that the head of the Asia Trading Company told the organization he won’t buy any more whale meat because there is no demand in Japan. The group said that “the three biggest fisheries companies in Japan have already said they don’t even want Japanese whale meat.”
But presumably someone bought Iceland’s butchered whales a year later, in 2010, before the two-year suspension of whale hunting, and Iceland’s hunters and government seem to have reason to believe that someone will buy the meat this year too. Iceland itself has no market for whale meat.
In this video from Greenpeace, Icelandic hunters begin chopping up a fin whale they harpooned.
Since 2003 Iceland has been violating international bans on commercial whaling. Norway is the only other country that openly hunts whales for commercial purposes. The International Whaling Commission seems to have no effective way to enforce its prohibition.
Fin whales face other threats to survival in addition to hunters. They are frequently hit by ships. They also get tangled up in fishing gear, face the degradation of their habitats, and are affected by human-created noise.
Please sign our petition calling on Iceland to stop the commercial hunt for whales.
Photo credit: iStockphoto/Thinkstock