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Iceland resumes fin whale hunting to dismay of animal welfare groups

A fin whale is seen stranded, possibly stuck on its belly, in a shallow fjord on the western coast at Vejle, Denmark, June 2010.
A fin whale is seen stranded, possibly stuck on its belly, in a shallow fjord on the western coast at Vejle, Denmark, June 2010. Copyright AP Photo
Copyright AP Photo
By Euronews with AFP
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Public opinion in Iceland does not indicate mass support for renewed hunting of endangered species using methods often described as exceptionally cruel.

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Iceland has given the green light for the resumption of whaling on Friday, much to the dismay of animal rights activists, after suspending it for more than two months in the name of animal welfare.

The Icelandic government had suspended the practice for two months at the end of June after the publication of a report concluding that whaling did not comply with the law on animal welfare.

Iceland is one of the last three countries, along with Norway and Japan, to still permit commercial whaling. The practice of pilot whale and dolphin hunting also continues in a specific traditional form in the Faroe Islands.

The annual quotas authorise the killing of 209 fin whales – the second longest marine mammal after the blue whale – and 217 minke whales.

However, catches have been significantly lower in recent years due to a fall in demand for whale meat.

In Iceland, opposition to this practice is now a majority opinion among the population: 51% of Icelanders are opposed to it, compared to 42% four years ago, according to a survey carried out by the Maskina Institute, the results of which were made public at the beginning of June.

The fishing licence of the country's last active hunting company, Hvalur, expires in 2023. It had already announced that this season would be its last due to the decline in the profitability of fishing.

The company has not reacted to the government's decision, but according to the Icelandic press this week, its boats have been out at sea scouting in anticipation.

The ministry said that Hvalur "will have to follow the regulations introduced today", including "stricter and more detailed requirements in terms of equipment and hunting methods, as well as increased surveillance".

Euronews has approached Hvalur for comment.

'Massacre at sea'

The decision has been very badly received by animal rights groups, who were hoping for an end to this controversial practice.

Ruud Tombrock, Executive Director of Humane Society International (HSI), issued a critical press release, saying that Icelandic Agriculture Minister Svandis Svavarsdottir has "inexplicably decided to ignore the unequivocal scientific findings that she herself had requested, showing that commercial whaling is cruel and brutal."

The report in question, produced by the country's veterinary authorities, found that the killing of cetaceans was taking too long. Videos recently released by the same authorities showed the shocking agony of a whale hunted last year, which lasted five hours.

To justify giving the go-ahead for the resumption of whaling, the ministry said in a press release that there was "a basis for changing whaling methods leading to fewer irregularities and consequently to an improvement in animal welfare".

However, animal welfare campaigners say that no change in hunting methods will suffice to protect whales from either suffering or the threat of extinction.

"Protecting whales is a critical necessity," added HSI's Tombrock. "This decision is a unique missed opportunity to put an end to this massacre at sea."

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