May 26, 2009

Conservationists Protest Beginning Of Iceland’s Whaling Season

Tuesday marked the beginning of Iceland's whaling season, despite protests from animal rights groups and international calls to reduce whaling quotas, AFP reported

Iceland is one of only two countries in the world that allows commercial whaling.

The country's whaling season, which usually runs from May to late September, will have a set maximum quota of 100 minke whales that can be killed during that time.

Gudmundur Haraldsson, one of the whalers on board the Johanna AR vessel, told AFP his crew hoped to catch the first minke whale today.

The promising weather forecast raised hopes that the first minke whale of the season could be brought ashore by Wednesday, Haraldsson said.

Since whaling is banned close to the harbor, the first whales are usually killed in a bay just outside of Reykjavik. Such restrictions are enacted to protect tourists participating in the popular whale watching businesses.

Gunnar Bergmann Jonsson, manager of the minke whaler association, said the first batch of meat "”of which 50 to 60 percent will be sold domestically, while the rest is sold to Japan"”would be in stores by the weekend.

Conservationists from the International Fund for Animal Welfare handed in a letter of protest at the Icelandic embassy in London pleading for the country to call off the hunting season.

However, despite international calls for it to reconsider, former fisheries minister Steingrimur Sigfusson said in February that Iceland would make no changes to its whaling quotas of 150 fin whales and up to 150 minke whales per year.

Iceland had previously pulled out of an international whaling moratorium in 2006 after 16 years, which required a quota of just nine fin whales and 40 minke whales per year.

Commercial whaling now only happens in Iceland and Norway.

And while Japan officially hunts whales, the country claims it is only for scientific purposes"”despite continuing to sell the hunted whale meat for consumption.