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Icelandic whaling has claimed over 35,000 whales to date. Image: Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA).

In a new report, Slayed in Iceland, the Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) has issued a call to action for the international community to take a stand against Iceland's ongoing hunt of endangered fin whales.

The exposé highlights the scale of the Icelandic hunt (which has claimed over 35,000 whales to date), but even more interestingly, highlights the financial and logistical links between the whalers, international trade and some of Iceland’s largest companies. 

According to the report, the Nordic country's fin whale trade revolves around Kristján Loftsson, the 'millionaire maverick' executive director of Icelandic whaling company Hvalur hf, and his trade with Japan. 

"Over the past eight years, Hvalur hf has exported more than 5,000 tonnes of fin whale products to Japan, including a record single shipment of 2,071 tonnes in 2014," EIA senior campaigner Clare Perry said in a press release. "This ongoing and escalating slaughter is not only a contemptuous slap in the face to international efforts to conserve whales, it’s a spreading bloodstain on Iceland’s international credibility and it needs to end now."

Fin whales were the target of industrial-scale commercial whaling until 1986, when an International Whaling Commission (IWC) moratorium put an end to these unsustainable whaling practices. Almost three decades later, fin whales are still in trouble.

“The exposé highlights the scale of the Icelandic hunt, which has claimed over 35,000 whales to date.”

Iceland's hunt goes against the regulations of the moratorium, as well as against the ban on international commercial trade in fin whale products imposed by CITES – so why is it continuing? "Iceland take[s] whales commercially at present, either under objection to the moratorium decision or under reservation to it," explains the IWC, adding that countries that choose this path establish their own catch limits but must provide information on those catches and associated scientific data to the IWC.

Norway, Japan and Russia have also resisted the guidelines of the moratorium over the years (though Russia does not exercise this objection at present), but when it comes to fin whale catches, Iceland's $50 million dollar industry continues to top the chart.

"Iceland’s whaling is controversial not just because it is conducted in defiance of the IWC’s moratorium ... Its quotas are self-allocated and have not been approved by either the IWC’s Scientific Committee or the Commission," says the EIA. "In the case of North Atlantic fin whales, Iceland’s  quotas are more than three times what would be deemed safe by the Scientific Committee ... if the whaling ban were not in place."

The consensus falls (almost laughably) far from the position offered up by Islandic Fisheries.: "Iceland is a consistent advocate of the principle of sustainable use of natural resources. This is reflected in Iceland’s whaling activities, which have never involved any of the endangered whale species, killed on a large scale by other whaling nations in the past ... The whaling operations practised by ... Iceland are sustainable and legal and in accordance with the rules of the IWC."

According to Animal Welfare Institue executive director Susan Millward (who collaborated on this new report), there is concern that Hvalur has begun to ship whale products to Japan via countries that have strong anti-whaling laws, such as the United States.

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Icelandic fin whale meat on sale in Japan. Image: Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA).

"Governments must work to ensure that their ports are permanently closed to the transit of whale products from protected species," she stresses.

Though the news is disturbing, this is not a new song and dance. In July 2011, then-US Secretary of Commerce Gary Locke certified that the commercial whaling activities in Iceland were "undermining the effectiveness of the IWC's conservation program". But rather than issue sanctions on trade with Iceland, US President Barack Obama directed federal agencies to undertake "a number of diplomatic actions" to encourage Iceland to change its whaling policy. 

Now, the report calls on the IWC and government bodies to take a more drastic approach – including a direct plea to Obama to consider the imposition of targeted economic trade sanctions against Iceland. But government making a difference is not simply up to government officials – consumers hold significant power when it comes to limiting economic gain by companies linked to whaling.

"According to opinion polls conducted in [the United Kingdom], 82 percent of people disagree with Iceland’s actions and almost two-thirds would avoid buying related Icelandic
products in protest. Figures are similar in the US," the report says.

To harness this 'citizen power', the EIA is working with local activists in a range of countries to urge consumers, wholesalers and retailers to avoid Icelandic seafood exports known to be linked with whaling.

"'Slayed in Iceland' strongly urges the IWC, governments and businesses dealing with Icelandic companies linked to whaling to take action to compel Iceland to cease commercial whaling and trade," urges the EIA.

Top header image: chris buelow, Flickr