Fin whales, one of the largest marine mammals in the world (second only to the Blue whale), have long been admired by hunters and naturalists alike. Explorer Roy Chapman Andrews wrote of the Balaenoptera physalus: “the finback whale is the greyhound of the sea, and well deserves the name, for its beautiful, slender body is built like a racing yacht and the animal can surpass the speed of the fastest ocean steamship.” Unfortunately, the fin whale was heavily hunted in the 20th century until it reached endangerment status. In 1986, the International Whaling Commission banned commercial whaling, but a handful of entities are still hunting despite this moratorium, namely Japan and Iceland. Iceland is well-known for its abundance of whales; SeaWorld’s beloved yet controversial Tilikum was captured from Icelandic seas.
Hvalur hf is one the largest conductors of whaling in the region. The Icelandic company had planned to capture and kill over 150 whales this summer, but has recently announced the cancellation of this hunt. Although the whaling company will likely still hunt smaller whales, this salvation of the fin whales is still exciting news which has left many advocates rejoicing.
While encouraging that the company shows regret for their actions, it is clear that their motives are less than ideal. Hvalur hf’s director, Kristján Loftsson, remarked in an interview, “If we knew what kind of trouble was brewing in Japan when we commenced whaling in 2009, after a 20-year pause, we would have never started again.” In addition to pressure from the United States and an international petition, one of the key reasons for the halt is the increasing difficulty in getting the whale meat to their biggest consumer, Japan, due to importing regulations and food safety laws.
Vanessa Williams-Grey, senior whaling campaigner at Whale and Dolphin Conservation, remarked, “It is well documented that whale meat contains high levels of toxins, and much of the meat exported by Loftsson’s company sits, unwanted, in frozen stockpiles. It seems that Kristján Loftsson has finally realized that his fin whaling has no future. The end of commercial whaling has moved a step closer today.”
Whatever the reason, we’ll take it. Let’s just hope that the next time a hunt is cancelled, it’s out of pure reverence for these magnificent creatures; the glorious grey-hounds of the sea.