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Animal rights groups have criticized the governments of Canada, Japan and Norway for continuing to allow commercial hunting of seals and/or whales as essential activities while their populations are subjected to lockdown measures amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Humane Society International (HSI) and Norwegian organization NOAH said it is “outrageous” that such practices should be permitted at this time, particularly given that they are often supported by public funds.

“There is dwindling demand for the products of commercial whaling and sealing operations, and these inhumane industries are only viable because of tax-payers’ money, so it’s extremely difficult to see how these can in any way be considered ‘essential’ activities during lockdown,” Claire Bass, executive director of Humane Society International/U.K., said in a statement.

“It’s disturbing to think that while all over the world people are making extraordinary sacrifices to stop the spread of COVID-19, whalers and sealers are carrying on with their bloody business as usual, risking infection spread amongst crews and their families. We urge the Norwegian, Canadian and Japanese governments to call an immediate stop to these cruel and unnecessary hunts,” she said.

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In Canada for example, the country’s annual commercial seal hunt will go ahead, a process that HSI describes as the “largest slaughter of marine mammals on the planet.”

During the yearly hunt, which occurs in two main areas, off the country’s east coast, hundreds of thousands of seals are killed using clubs and guns. Harp seals—already at risk from climate change—are the main target, and the vast majority of the animals killed are pups below the age of three months.

Seal hunting will also be allowed to continue in Norway after the government announced a quota to kill more than 18,000 of the animals last month. In response to the COVID-19, no animal welfare inspectors will be allowed on board—as is customary—to reduce the risk of infection. However, the animal rights groups have raised concerns over why such precautions have not been applied to protect the crew members who will take place on the hunts.

whaling, Japan
A captured Minke whale is carried by a whaling ship at a port in Kushiro, Hokkaido Prefecture on July 1, 2019.KAZUHIRO NOGI/AFP VIA GETTY IMAGES

Furthermore, both Norway and Japan will allow commercial whaling operations to continue during the pandemic. Japan—which drew widespread criticism for leaving the International Whaling Commission in 2018—has awarded itself a quota of nearly 200 whales. Meanwhile, hunters in Norway will be aiming to kill more than 1,200 over the next few months.

“These ongoing and cruel persecutions of marine mammals are increasingly out of step with modern scientific thinking, which shows that healthy marine mammal populations contribute to healthy marine ecosystems and the overall health of our planet. We need to look again very carefully at our relationships with these animals and appreciate their roles and not see them simply as commodities to be harvested,” Mark Simmonds, HSI’s senior marine scientist, said in the statement.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Advice on Using Face Coverings to Slow Spread of COVID-19

  • CDC recommends wearing a cloth face covering in public where social distancing measures are difficult to maintain.
  • A simple cloth face covering can help slow the spread of the virus by those infected and by those who do not exhibit symptoms.
  • Cloth face coverings can be fashioned from household items. Guides are offered by the CDC. (
  • Cloth face coverings should be washed regularly. A washing machine will suffice.
  • Practice safe removal of face coverings by not touching eyes, nose, and mouth, and wash hands immediately after removing the covering.

World Health Organization advice for avoiding spread of coronavirus disease (COVID-19)

Hygiene advice

  • Clean hands frequently with soap and water, or alcohol-based hand rub.
  • Wash hands after coughing or sneezing; when caring for the sick; before, during and after food preparation; before eating; after using the toilet; when hands are visibly dirty; and after handling animals or waste.
  • Maintain at least 1 meter (3 feet) distance from anyone who is coughing or sneezing.
  • Avoid touching your hands, nose and mouth. Do not spit in public.
  • Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue or bent elbow when coughing or sneezing. Discard the tissue immediately and clean your hands.

Medical advice

  • Avoid close contact with others if you have any symptoms.
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Mask and glove usage

  • Healthy individuals only need to wear a mask if taking care of a sick person.
  • Wear a mask if you are coughing or sneezing.
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  • Regularly washing bare hands is more effective against catching COVID-19 than wearing rubber gloves.
  • The COVID-19 virus can still be picked up on rubber gloves and transmitted by touching your face.

Icelanders Don’t Like Whale Meat—So Why the Hunts?

The whale business isn’t booming, but hunters are reluctant to give up the trade, a new film shows.


When it comes to commercial whaling, Japan is in the limelight. The country has been widely accused of using a scientific research program as a guise for hunting hundreds of whales a year and selling their meat. Last year, an international court agreed that the program isn’t scientific and ordered Japan to shut it down—to no avail.

But while Japan’s whaling program may be the most publicized, Japan isn’t the only nation hunting whales for commercial gain. Iceland does too. Along with Norway, the country openly defies a 1986 moratorium set by the International Whaling Commission (IWC), a voluntary body whose member nations agreed not to hunt medium and large whales for profit.

The solitary minke whale, which isn’t threatened with extinction, falls into this category. So does the endangered fin whale, also called the finback whale. But Icelandic whalers hunt them both anyway. This caught the attention of Jonny Zwick, a filmmaker based in California. His documentary Breach, released on Amazon Prime in November, explores the country’s commercial whaling industry.

How is it that Iceland can even hunt the animals? When the country wanted to rejoin the whaling commission in 2002 after a decade long hiatus, it included a clause in its reentry bid objecting to the commercial whaling ban. This “reservation” to the moratorium is what allows Iceland to whale commercially. Each year, the government sets what’s supposed to be sustainable kill numbers for minke and fin whales.



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WATCH: See the trailer for the upcoming documentary Breach, which examines Iceland’s controversial commercial whaling industry. Video courtesy Side Door Productions

Minke meat largely appeals to tourists who can order it at Icelandic restaurants. But meat from the endangered fin whale isn’t popular at all in Iceland, so it usually gets shipped to Japan—even though there’s not a big market there, either. International trade in fin whale is banned, but another “reservation” to that ban allows Iceland to ship whale meat to Japan.

The film shows that the whale meat business isn’t exactly lucrative, but that hasn’t stopped the country’s lone fin-whaling company, Hvalur, from trying to sell its product. The business has even incorporated whale into beer and luxury dog food, and in 2014 it was forced to take a long and circuitous route to avoid European ports that blocked passage of its ships.

Intrigued by the film, I recently caught up with Zwick to discuss it. He spoke about how Icelanders feel about whaling, what shocked him most about the country’s whaling practices, and what he thinks of Hvalur’s director, Kristjan Loftsson.

How did you get interested in the topic?

My uncle is a marine biologist conservationist. He actually informed me about what was taking place in Iceland. I found it quite shocking that I’d never heard that endangered finback whales, the world’s second largest animal, were being slaughtered for commercial gain there. I decided to go and was pretty shocked by the access that I was granted—and decided that somebody needs to tell this story.

California native Jonny Zwick produced a new documentary called Breach, which examines Iceland’s commercial whaling industry.


What kind of story did you want to tell?

I wanted to tell the story from the Icelanders’ point of view because obviously there are a lot of objections to whaling commercially around the world—what we’ve seen in protests in Japan—but I wanted to hear it firsthand from those involved and those who’ve been surrounded by it. When I found out that 52 percent of Icelanders still supported whaling in 2013, I really wanted to hear why.

How would you compare Iceland’s whaling industry with Japan’s or Norway’s, countries that also engage in commercial whaling?

Iceland is the only country in the world to hunt the endangered finback whale, which is very different from the commercial minke whaling that takes place in Norway and Japan. Because it’s a different species—it’s an endangered species.

Iceland’s minke whaling isn’t that prevalent, but Norway is killing a ton of minke whales off the radar, and Japan is completely under the spotlight, which is appropriate because they go down into the whale sanctuaries, and they kill thousands of whales as well, but they’re minke whales and they claim for it to be research. Norway and Iceland openly admit to it being commercial whale hunting, but no one seems to give it much attention.

Whalers in Iceland cut open a fin whale, the second largest mammal, after blue whales. The country sells its meat to Japan.


As you filmed the documentary, what surprised you most?

The International Whaling Commission designated a scientific committee that spent a lot of time coming up with this number of 46 fin whales that would be established as a sustainable amount of whales that could be killed each season. The Icelandic government says that it’s adhering to the IWC regulations and rules, yet they have a quota of 154 for fin whales that can be killed every year. It was shocking to me that they’re getting away with this. They’re killing three times the amount that’s supposed to be sustainable.

Has the International Whaling Commission done anything to stop them?

A lot of NGOs and people who’ve been pushing for new legislation have almost given up on the IWC. They really don’t consider the IWC as a body that’s going to do anything about that, so they’re calling on specific governments, rather than even dealing with the IWC.

I was surprised that Iceland’s whaling industry pretty much comes down to one man, Kristjan Loftsson. What do you make of him?

He’s the son of the man who started Hvalur, this whaling company. And it’s really hard for him to let go, and he doesn’t want people telling him what to do with his heritage. At one point, it probably was profitable for Icelanders, for his company. But now it’s been proven as unprofitable, so his motives just become very obvious. And he just has this huge propaganda policy. He gets kids at a really young age to come and start working for him in the whaling stations, and he really tries to ingrain this nationalistic sentiment into them and get everybody on board with continuing his family practice.

The film shows the battle between the whaling and whale watching industries. Can you describe that dynamic?

The whale watching industry brought in about 300,000 people in Iceland last year alone, and Iceland’s entire population is 300,000. So this business is huge, and seeing a whale alive in the wild is more more valuable for somebody going to Iceland than trying it on their dinner plate. But then you have these tourists coming to Iceland, going whale watching, and then getting off the boat and actually trying this whale meat. When you get off the ships it’s advertised as an Icelandic tradition. So there’s just this weird dichotomy and there has to be education there.

Slabs of fin whale meat await packaging at the Hvalfijordur whaling station in Iceland.


So as you hoped, did you discover why Icelanders support whaling?

It’s a nationalistic thing. They gained independence in 1944, and they want to set their own rules. They consider whales their resources, and they don’t want people telling them what to do with their resources. And they get really heated about it, and they have pride about it.

What do you want this film to accomplish?

The majority of Icelanders may be in favor of whaling, but I believe that’s primarily because they haven’t received any education about whales in their surrounding waters and don’t understand that whaling is not enhancing their economy in any way but rather is hurting it. I want the film to be able to answer questions and educate people about the illegal whale hunting taking place in Iceland. They don’t call it illegal, but it is defiant, and they are breaking international law in the trade of endangered species.

This story has been corrected to reflect that Iceland gained independence in 1944.

This story was produced by National Geographic’s Special Investigations Unit, which focuses on wildlife crime and is made possible by grants from the BAND Foundation and the Woodtiger Fund. Read more stories from the SIU on Wildlife Watch. Send tips, feedback, and story ideas to

Japan’s decision to resume commercial whaling ‘disappointing’, Boris Johnson tells country’s prime minister at G7

A whale hunt in the Faroe islands
A whale hunt in the Faroe islands CREDIT: ANDRIJA ILIC/AFP/GETTY IMAGES

The Japanese Prime Minister’s decision to resume commercial whaling was described by Boris Johnson as “disappointing” at the G7 meeting.

The Prime Minister took the chance to raise the topic with Shinzo Abe when they met on Bank Holiday Monday.

The Telegraph understands he told Mr Abe that he was very disappointed with their decision to continue the practice, which has been condemned by animal charities for putting whales at risk of extinction.

Carrie Symonds, Boris Johnson’s partner, has campaigned for some time on the issue in her role as head of communications for the conservation NGO Oceana.

Ms Symonds attended an anti-whaling protest outside the Japanese Embassy in January alongside the Prime Minister’s father, Stanley Johnson.

She said at the time that the practice should be consigned to the “dustbin of history”, adding: “It’s cruel beyond belief. We have all seen the pictures of the sea turning red with blood, while a whale dies slowly in agony with a sharp metal implement pushed through its body. How can that be right?”

Carrie Symonds and Stanley Johnson at an anti-whaling protest earlier this year
Carrie Symonds and Stanley Johnson at an anti-whaling protest earlier this year CREDIT: JOHN STILLWELL/PA WIRE

It is understood Ms Symonds will be unable to attend as she will be in the United States for her work at Oceana.

Defra minister Zac Goldsmith is meeting with NGOs to discuss the issue of whaling next week.

He said: “Very pleased to hear that ⁦‪Boris Johnson raised Japan’s awful decision to resume commercial whaling with the Japanese PM today at the G7. Hope they will seriously rethink.”

Japan’s first commercial whale hunt since 1986 commenced in early July, after the country left the International Whaling Commission, which has a ban on commercial hunting.

The ban was put in place after whales were brought to the brink of extinction by hunting in the 19th and 20th century.

The creatures are hunted for their meat, and many coastal communities in Japan argue that it is an important tradition.

Boris Johnson has been pushing biodiversity to the forefront of the agenda at the G7 meeting, and he said: “We cannot sit back as animals and plants are wiped off the face of the planet by mankind’s recklessness. If we do not act now our children and grandchildren will never know a world with the Great Barrier Reef, the Sumatran tiger or the black rhino.”

Japan whaling town Taiji begins dolphin hunting

 KYODO NEWS – 17 hours ago – 15:00 | AllJapan

The hunting season for dolphins using a controversial “drive-hunting” method began Sunday in the whaling town of Taiji in western Japan, without any major protest from animal-rights groups.

While local police officers were on high alert for anti-whaling campaigns, 12 boats left the town’s port around 5 a.m., but all returned without any catch, according to a fisheries cooperative official.

The hunting method, in which fishermen herd dolphins and small whales into a cove before sealing the area with a net, has drawn fierce criticism from animal-rights groups at home and abroad.

As a member of the International Whaling Commission, Japan halted commercial whaling in 1988 but hunted whales for what it called research purposes, a practice criticized internationally as a cover for commercial whaling.

Japan had long sought to lift the moratorium and finally left the IWC on June 30 after the organization last year voted down its proposal to resume commercial whaling of species considered abundant, such as minke whales.

(Dolphin hunt off Taiji pictured in 2010.)

Hunting dolphins and other small cetaceans in waters near Taiji was not subject to controls by the IWC, although critics have said the technique is cruel and it has become the subject of an Oscar-winning documentary.

Ahead of the hunting season’s start, local authorities were anxious that there could be obstruction from international anti-whaling activists, but only about 10 members of a Japanese animal-rights group gathered at the port on Sunday.

The hunting season continues for about six months. An ad hoc police box has been set up near the port and, together with police officers, personnel from the Japan Coast Guard will be deployed around the area.

“Thanks to the security, we can do (hunting) with ease,” said Teruto Seko, head of the fisheries cooperative.

Sep 1, 2019 | KYODO NEWS

Demand for whale meat is down. So why did Japan just resume commercial whaling?

Japanese commercial ships hunting whales for the first time in more than three decades caught at least two minke whales Monday and hoped to “hand over our country’s rich whaling culture to the next generation.”

The nation’s Fisheries Agency said it has set “extremely conservative” quotas designed to allow continuous whale hunting for the next 100 years with no harmful impact on the whale population.

Renewing the practice is a win for traditionalists that also extricates the government from its costly and contentious “research” whaling program. It’s just not clear who will actually eat the stuff.

“My heart is overflowing with happiness,” said Yoshifumi Kai, head of the Japan Small-Type Whaling Association. ““This is a small industry, but I am proud of hunting whales. People have hunted whales for more than 400 years in my hometown.”

The Australian Marine Conservation society took a different tack. Darren Kindleysides, the group’s CEO, called whaling “outdated and cruel” and noted that demand for whale meat has dwindled.

  ought that by leaving the IWC it could wash its hands of its duties under international law, then it was wrong,” he said, adding that “Today is a historic moment for all the wrong reasons.”

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The limits allow for harvesting of 227 minke, Bryde’s and sei whales over the next six months in Japanese waters. Release of the quota had been planned for late June but apparently was withheld until completion of the Group of 20 summit held in Osaka over the weekend.

Whales caught in coastal waters are expected to be brought back for fresh local consumption at any of six local whaling hubs. Whale meat caught further off the coast will be frozen and distributed for wider consumption.

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The hunt began one day after Japan formally withdrew from the International Whaling Commission. While a member, Japan had drawn criticism for whaling it conducted under the guise of research.

Under Japan’s new guidelines, whaling in the Antarctic Ocean is banned and research whaling will halt. The Fisheries Agency said the whale haul is actually expected to decline under the new rules.

Other whaling nations have seen catches fall well below quotas. Iceland, with a quota of 378, caught only 17 whales in the 2017-2018 season. Norway hunted 432, about one-third of its quota.

Under its research hunts, Japan at its peak caught as many as 1,200 whales. It drastically cut back on its catch in recent years after international protests escalated and whale meat consumption slumped at home. The research whaling program lost money for years – $15 million in the last year alone.

The annual domestic consumption of whale meat, about 200,000 tons in the 1960s, has fallen to around 5,000 tons in recent years, according to government data.

In the northern city of Kushiro, whaling ship captain Takashi Takeuchi told Kyodo news service he “felt uneasy” about the outlook for commercial whaling in Japan. He noted that Japanese have long since eaten whale meat consumption on a regular basis.

Hideki Abe, 22, works aboard a whaling ship, said the youth of Japan will be key to whaling’s future.

“I hope the younger generations will get accustomed to eating whale meat,” he said.

Contributing: The Associated Press

Japan’s commercial whaling to restart July 1 after 3-decade hiatus

In this June 1, 2019 photo, a whaling vessel departs from Abashiri port in Japan’s northernmost main island of Hokkaido, to take part in the last round of what Japan calls “research” whaling off the Pacific coast ahead of the country’s withdrawal from the International Whaling Commission at the end of June for commercial hunting. (Kyodo)

SAPPORO (Kyodo) — Japan will restart commercial whaling on July 1 in Kushiro, Hokkaido, following a three-decade hiatus after the government announced its withdrawal from the International Whaling Commission in December, a local fishery source said Friday.

A fleet of five vessels belonging to six whaling operators from Abashiri in Hokkaido Prefecture, Ishimaki in Miyagi Prefecture, Minamiboso in Chiba Prefecture and Taiji in Wakayama Prefecture, who have been conducting the last round of Japan’s so-called scientific whaling around Abashiri port since June 1, will embark on the mission.

Whaling operators are making final arrangements with relevant bodies to hold a ceremony the day they set sail from Kushiro, where they will commence their activities for around a week.

Each vessel will then separately fish for Berardius whales off Minamiboso and other areas until around the end of August. They are expected to regather in Kushiro in September before embarking to hunt minke whales until October.

Japan halted commercial whaling in 1988 in line with a moratorium adopted in 1982 by the IWC. But it has hunted whales for what it claims are research purposes ever since, a practice criticized internationally as a cover for commercial whaling.

Japan will hunt whales in nearby waters and within its exclusive economic zone but not in the Antarctic Ocean, where the country has carried out “scientific whaling.”

Around 200,000 tons of whale meat was consumed in Japan each year in the 1960s, but the figure has fallen to around 5,000 tons in recent years, according to government data.

Hearing set on NOAA plan for Makah whale hunts

Makah tribal members process a gray whale after it was harpooned and towed ashore in Neah Bay in this file photo from May 1999. (Peninsula Daily News)Makah tribal members process a gray whale after it was harpooned and towed ashore in Neah Bay in this file photo from May 1999. (Peninsula Daily News)

NEAH BAY — The Makah Tribe would hunt from one to three Eastern North Pacific gray whales annually over 10 years under a federal proposal announced Thursday that could go into effect in 2020, federal and tribal officials said.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) recommendation threatens to renew divisions between anti-whaling and animal-rights advocates and the coastal tribe, whose last sanctioned whale hunt was in 1999.

“We never ceased continuing to move forward with our efforts,” Tribal County member Patrick DePoe said Thursday. “We’ve been on pause for quite some time. It’s a good feeling to see things starting to happen.”

NOAA has recommended that the federal Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA) moratorium that prohibits killing whales and other marine mammals should be waived to allow Makah tribal whaling.

The proposal will be reviewed and commented on at a hearing in front of Administrative Law Judge George A. Jordan at a 9:30 a.m. Aug. 12 at the Henry M. Jackson Building in Seattle.

NOAA’s report and outline of the hearing process will be published today in the Federal Register.

“To waive the MMPA to actually kill whales, that’s a new one,” said Joyce resident Margaret Owens, who with her husband, Chuck, founded Peninsula Citizens for the Protection of Whales.

“We don’t consider the killing of any gray whales acceptable, and we are particularly sensitive about our resident group of 30. We are back into saving whales, which we never did stop.”

Jordan will make a recommendation to Chris Oliver, assistant administrator of NOAA’s National Marine Fisheries Service.

If Oliver approves the waiver, the Makah would apply for a five-year renewable whaling permit with NOAA Fisheries to allow the hunt to proceed, NOAA spokesman Michael Milstein said Thursday.

After 10 years, the waiver would expire.

“We’d have to essentially re-examine everything and assess how things proceeded and see if we would propose a new waiver,” Milstein said.

The tribe, recognized as an aboriginal subsistence whaling group by the International Whaling Commission, would not need permission from the IWC if the waiver is approved, DePoe said.

In May 2007, the International Whaling Commission granted the Makah a harvest quota of up to 20 whales over five years, with no more than five in one year.

The agency’s proposal was announced almost 20 years to day when, on May 17, 1999, Makah whalers hunted and killed an Eastern North Pacific gray whale for the first time in more than 70 years, an event closely chronicled by national media.

The tribe asserted its right to whale under the 1855 Treaty of Neah Bay, under which the Makah ceded thousands of acres of land to the U.S. government.

The tribe applied for the waiver in 2005 to hunt 20 gray whales every five years.

Under NOAA’s recommendation, Makah whalers could hunt up to three Eastern North Pacific gray whales in its usual and accustomed whaling areas on even- numbered years and one on odd-numbered years.

NOAA estimates the population of Eastern North Pacific gray whales is 27,000.

The Eastern Northern Pacific whales would be harpooned, then dispatched with .50-caliber rifles, as the gray whale was in 1999.

Milstein said Makah whalers would hunt in a way that the approximately 192 whales in the Pacific Coast Feeding Group (PCFG) gray whales — including 30 “resident” whales that feed close to Clallam County’s shores and the 200 whales in the endangered Western North Pacific (WNP) gray whale population — would not be harmed.

The WNP population inhabits waters off Russia and visits waters in the the tribe’s usual and accustomed areas.

“Even-year hunts would occur during the migration season (Dec. 1 of an odd-numbered year through May 31 of the subsequent even-numbered year) to reduce risk to PCFG whales,” according to NOAA’s report.

“Odd-year hunts would occur during the feeding season (July 1 through Oct. 30 of odd-numbered years) to reduce risk to WNP whales,” according to the report.

The risk of striking WNP whales during even-numbered years is one in 170 years, Milstein said.

At that time of year, they are off the Russian coast, Milstein said.

If a Western North Pacific whale were struck at any point, hunting would cease, then would resume after further measures were examined to eliminate the risk to that population, Milstein said.

The risk to PCFG whales, a subset of the Eastern North Pacific whales, would be minimized by setting a limit of 16 whales struck with a harpoon over the course of the 10-year waiver period, Milstein said.

PCFG whales have been photo-identified between June 1-Nov. 30 during two or more years between Northern California and Northern Vancouver Island.

If the PCFG population falls below 192, all whale hunting would cease until that number increases to above 192, Milstein said.

The number of strikes, or whales that can be harpooned, would be limited.

Three Eastern North Pacific gray whales could be harpooned during even-year hunts and two could be struck during odd-year hunts.

Sixteen PCFG whales could be struck over 10 years.

DePoe said the tribe revised its waiver application to protect Pacific Coast Feeding Group and Western North Pacific whales.

“We are doing what we need to do to be responsible stewards of our environment,” DePoe said.

DePoe was a high school student in May 1999 when he stood on the beach at Neah Bay and helped haul in the 30-foot gray whale that was killed off Cape Alava.

“That feeling you had, that overwhelming sense of pride in who you are, that cultural, spiritual component that you feel at the moment, it was amazing,” DePoe recalled.

Whaling is ingrained in Makah culture, he said.

“With the anniversary itself and the length of time it has taken to get to this point, this is emotional, it’s very emotional,” he said.

But Owens said in an email that the plan “allows Makah hunters to specifically target our local whales in the coastal near-shore every other summer.”

She said that under NOAA’s proposal, Makah tribal whalers “have full permission” to kill a resident whale.

“There will be much heartbreak and community distress as whales are harpooned, shot and dragged up on the beach year after year.”

Iceland to keep hunting up to 2,130 whales over 5 years

February 23, 2019
1 of 2
FILE – In this file photo dated Saturday Aug. 23, 2003, Seagulls mill around in search of food as a whale is hauled onto a fishing boat after it was killed in the Atlantic Ocean off the west coast of Iceland. Iceland’s whaling industry will be allowed to hunt up to 2,130 whales over the next five years, it is revealed Saturday Feb. 23, 2019, under a new rule issued by the Nordic nation’s government. (AP Photo/Adam Butler,FILE)

REYKJAVIK, Iceland (AP) — Iceland’s whaling industry will be allowed to keep hunting whales for at least another five years, killing up to 2,130 baleen whales under a new quota issued by the government.

The five-year whaling policy was up for renewal when Fisheries Minister Kristjan Juliusson announced this week an annual quota of 209 fin whales and 217 minke whales for the next five years.

While many Icelanders support whale hunting, a growing number of businessmen and politicians are against it due to the North Atlantic island nation’s dependence on tourism.

Whaling, they say, is bad for business and poses a threat to the country’s reputation and the expanding international tourism that has become a mainstay of Iceland’s national economy.

The Icelandic Travel Industry Association issued a statement Friday saying the government was damaging the nation’s “great interests” and the country’s reputation to benefit a small whaling sector that is struggling to sell its products.

“Their market for whale meat is Japan, Norway and the Republic of Palau,” the tourism statement said. “Our market is the entire globe.”

Iceland’s Statistics Agency says tourism accounts for 8.6 percent of Iceland’s economic production. In 2016, tourism produced more revenue than Iceland’s fishing industry for the first time.

Iceland has four harpoon-equipped vessels, owned by three shipping companies reported to be running them at a loss or small profit. Last year, the industry killed 5 minke whales and 145 fin whales, according to the Directorate of Fisheries.

Since commercial whale hunting resumed in Iceland in 2006, whaling companies have never killed their full quota. As a result, it’s considered unlikely that all 2,130 whales will be killed under this policy.

The International Whaling Commission imposed a ban on commercial whaling in the 1980s due to dwindling stocks. Japan in December said it was pulling out of the IWC due to its disagreement with that policy. Iceland is still a member of the IWC.

Whales are many things – but they are not a resource to be harvested

In this photo taken on Sunday, Jan. 5, 2014. three dead minke whales lie on the deck of the Japanese whaling vessel Nisshin Maru.


Peter Singer is an author and professor of bioethics at Princeton University, Laureate Professor at the University of Melbourne and founder of the non-profit organization The Life You Can Save.

On Dec. 26, Japan announced that it was leaving the International Whaling Commission (IWC). Yoshihide Suga, Japan’s chief cabinet secretary, emphasized the cultural significance of the whaling industry for local Japanese communities and said that the IWC had focused too much on conserving whales and not on its stated goal of developing a sustainable whaling industry.

That the IWC has ceased to act in accordance with its original purpose is difficult to deny. The IWC was set up by the International Convention for the Regulation of Whaling, which was agreed to in 1946. The preamble of the convention describes whale stocks as “great natural resources” and indicates that the purpose of the convention is “to provide for the proper conservation of whale stocks and thus make possible the orderly development of the whaling industry.”

That is how the IWC operated for its first 25 years. From the 1970s on, however, attitudes toward whales began to change. Many governments that had previously been members of the IWC because they engaged in whaling and wanted to protect these “resources” from unsustainable overuse instead began to reflect the more positive attitudes to whales of their citizens. As a result, in 1986, the IWC passed a moratorium on commercial whaling, which has been maintained ever since, even though it is today difficult to argue that all stocks of all species of whales are so imperilled that no commercial hunting could be sustainable.

Japan has not openly breached the moratorium; instead, it has got around it by exploiting a loophole allowing the killing of whales for scientific research. Each year, Japanese whaling ships have killed about 300 whales, allegedly for this purpose. The carcasses of the whales were taken to Japan and their meat was sold to the dwindling minority of Japanese who continue to eat whale meat.

In 2010, Australia took Japan to the International Court of Justice, which found that Japan was in fact engaging in commercial whaling, in breach of IWC rules. But Japan simply tweaked the “research program” a little, and went back to killing the same number of whales it had been killing before.

The IWC’s change of purpose was made clear just last September, when at a meeting in Florianopolis, Brazil, member countries voted 40 to 27 for a Brazilian proposal to maintain the ban on commercial whaling, and assert that whaling is no longer a necessary economic activity. For Japan, which sees maintaining its whaling industry as a matter of national pride, that vote would have been the final straw that made continued membership of the IWC pointless.

What we cannot disregard, however, is the fact that the new attitude to whales that has led to the change in the IWC’s purpose is neither a purely emotional response to killing mysterious big animals nor the imposition of Western attitudes on other cultures. It has a solid basis in our improved scientific understanding of whales, and in the moral progress we are making in extending the circle of moral concern beyond our own species. That concern is very much in accord with Japan’s own Buddhist tradition, which teaches compassion for all sentient beings.

We have learned a lot about whales since 1946, We know that they are social mammals with big brains, capable of communicating with each other by various sounds. They bond with their children and with their social group. They live long lives – bowhead whales live much longer than any other mammal; some have been found with 200-year-old ivory spear tips embedded in their flesh. Many other whales live at least 40 years. They appear to be capable of both pleasure and pain – and not only physical pain, but very likely also distress at the loss of a child or one of their group.

Whales are therefore not stocks in the sense in which we as a country may have stocks of coal. Nor are they resources to be harvested like a field of wheat. They are individual beings, with lives of their own that may go well or badly.

In modern commercial whaling, whales are killed by an explosive harpoon fired from a moving vessel at a moving target. That makes it very difficult to hit the whale in the right spot for an instantaneous loss of consciousness. Nor are commercial whalers willing to use enough explosive to be sure of a quick kill, because they want an intact whale carcass, not one blown to bits. Hence harpooned whales typically die slowly and painfully. If we needed to eat whales to survive, inflicting that kind of death on a sensitive social mammal might be defensible. For well-fed people in Japan or other affluent countries, it is not.

Nor is the fact that there are areas of Japan in which whaling is an ancient cultural heritage a sufficient justification for killing whales. In China, the binding of girls’ feet was an ancient cultural heritage, but it maimed women. We should be glad that it is now firmly in the past. Whaling should go the same way.

And perhaps it will. Once Japan leaves the IWC, it will no longer be able to continue whaling in the Southern Ocean under the guise of “scientific research.” Recognizing this fact, Japan has said it will carry out commercial whaling only in its territorial waters and exclusive economic zone (EEZ), which means, roughly speaking, an area of 4.5-million square kilometres around its territory. That’s a large area, but it contains far fewer whales than the Southern Ocean, and if Japan wants to have a sustainable industry, that will place strict limits on the number of whales its ships can kill.

Perhaps instead of feeling dismay at Japan’s departure from the IWC, we should celebrate the fact that the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary, established by the IWC in 1994, will now be the true sanctuary for whales that it never could be while Japanese ships were conducting their brutal “scientific research.”

In leaving the IWC, Japan has put itself on the outside, as a nation that is oblivious to the legitimate moral concern of many countries and people, including, as polls in Japan show, its own people. The next generation of Japanese leaders will surely see this as a false step that they will want to reverse.

Japan confirms it will quit IWC to resume commercial whaling

Japan will resume hunting in its waters in July but will end controversial expeditions to the Southern ocean

A minke whale is landed at a port in Kushiro on Japan’s northernmost main island of Hokkaido in 2017.
 A minke whale is landed at a port in Kushiro on Japan’s northernmost main island of Hokkaido in 2017. Photograph: Kyodo News/Kyodo News via Getty Images

Japan is facing international condemnation after confirming it will resuming commercial whaling for the first time in more than 30 years.

The country’s fleet will resume commercial operations in July next 2019, the government’s chief spokesman, Yoshihide Suga, said of the decision to defy the 1986 global ban on commercial whaling.

Suga told reporters the country’s fleet would confine its hunts to Japanese territorial waters and exclusive economic zone, adding that its controversial annual expeditions to the Southern Ocean – a major source of diplomatic friction between Tokyo and Canberra – would end.

He said Japan would officially inform the IWC of its decision by the end of the year, which will mean the withdrawal comes into effect by 30 June.

Its decision prompted criticism from conservationists and other nations including the UK and Australia.

The UK’s environment secretary, Michael Gove, said he was “extremely disappointed” by Japan’s move.

He said in a tweet: “The UK is strongly opposed to commercial whaling and will continue to fight for the protection and welfare of these majestic mammals.”

Michael Gove


Extremely disappointed to hear that Japan has decided to withdraw from the International Whaling Commission to resume commercial whaling. The UK is strongly opposed to commercial whaling and will continue to fight for the protection and welfare of these majestic mammals.

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Greenpeace disputed Japan‘s view that whale stocks have recovered, noting also that ocean life is being threatened by pollution as well as overfishing.

“The declaration today is out of step with the international community, let alone the protection needed to safeguard the future of our oceans and these majestic creatures,” Sam Annesley, executive director at Greenpeace Japan, said in a statement.

“The government of Japan must urgently act to conserve marine ecosystems, rather than resume commercial whaling.”

It also accused Japan of timing the announcement to avoid criticism.

“It’s clear that the government is trying to sneak in this announcement at the end of year, away from the spotlight of international media, but the world sees this for what it is,” Annesley, said.

“Most whale populations have not yet recovered, including larger whales such as blue whales, fin whales and sei whales.”

Backbench Conservative MP and former foreign secretary Boris Johnson said Japan’s decision was “appalling” and urged it think again.

Boris Johnson


Appalling decision by Japanese government. They must rethink. 

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Astrid Fuchs, programme lead at Whale and Dolphin Conservation, said it was “terrible decision” that could encourage other countries to quit the IWC.

She added: “The oversight that the IWC was having over Japan’s whaling will now be lost. We won’t know how many whales they are catching, we won’t know how they will report it. It might spell doom for some populations. There is an endangered population of Minke whales off Japan, which is already under threat.”

Erik Solheim, a Norwegian diplomat who was the head of the United Nations Environment Programme until earlier this year, said Japan’s decision to leave the international whaling commission was “dangerous”.

In a tweet he called for a global campaign to urge Japan to reconsider.

Erik Solheim


Japan will start commercial whaling.
Let’s ask Japan to reconsider!
It’s dangerous when nations break out of global agreements and start setting their own rules. 

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Jack Ashley, manager of the Cambridge University’s Zoology Museum said government around the world should condemn the decision.

In a joint statement on Wednesday, Australia’s foreign minister Marise Payne and the environment minister, Melissa Price, said the Australian government was “extremely disappointed” that Japan was withdrawing from the commission and resuming commercial whaling.

“The International Whaling Commission plays a crucial role in international cooperation on whale conservation,” they said.

“The commission is the pre-eminent global body responsible for the conservation and management of whales and leads international efforts to tackle the growing range of threats to whales globally, including by-catch, ship strikes, entanglement, noise, and whaling.

“Their decision to withdraw is regrettable and Australia urges Japan to return to the Convention and Commission as a matter of priority.”

The Australian Marine Conservation Society said the decision to halt the Antarctic hunt would be “welcome and long overdue”. Its chief executive, Darren Kindleysides, called on the Australian government to demand the Japanese fleet left immediately rather than at the end of its normal hunting season in February or March.

“Australians have been fighting for decades to get the whalers out of the Antarctic,” Kindleysides said. “However, it would be a bittersweet victory if it comes with unchecked commercial whaling by Japan in their own waters, and their leaving could damage the future of the IWC itself.”

Wednesday’s announcement had been widely expected after Japan recently failed to win IWC support for a proposal to change the body’s decision-making process – a move that would have made it easier for Japan to secure enough votes to end the commercial whaling ban, which went into effect in 1986 to protect dwindling whale stocks.

Japan argues that the moratorium was supposed to be a temporary measure and has accused a “dysfunctional” IWC of abandoning its original purpose – managing the sustainable use of global whale stocks.

“I support the government’s decision” to withdraw, Itsunori Onodera, a former defence minister who advises the ruling Liberal Democratic Party on fisheries, told public broadcaster NHK. “I have attended IWC meetings several times in the past, and I was struck by their extremely biased views. The IWC has become a dysfunctional organisation.”

Japanese fisheries officials claim that populations of certain types of whale – such as the minke – have recovered sufficiently to allow the resumption of “sustainable” hunting.

It has used a loophole in the ban to hunt a certain number of whales for what it claims is scientific research. Byproduct from the hunts is sold on the domestic market, although Japan’s appetite for whale meat has declined dramatically since the postwar years, when it was an important source of protein.

The country ate 200,000 tons of whale meat a year in the 1960s, but consumption has plummeted to about 5,000 tons in recent years, according to government data.

Japan will join Iceland and Norway in openly defying the ban on commercial whale hunting.