Who's Still Hunting Whales? For The First Time in 17 Years, One Country Opts Out

For the first time in 17 years, there will be no commercial whaling in Iceland after the sole company certified to hunt whales failed to renew its license in time.

Hvalur hf, started in 1948, will not be hunting the endangered fin whale or the more common minke whale for the remainder of the year, according to the Reykjavik Grapevine. The company, which exports most of its product to Japan, cited a shrinking appetite for whale meat as the reason for foregoing the hunt.

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Iceland will not have commercial whale hunting for the first time in nearly 20 years Getty Images

The last summer that Iceland went without a commercial hunt was in 2003, when it limited hunting to "scientific research." The country allowed outright commercial whaling again just three years later.

Gunnar Bergmann Jónsson, CEO of whaling company IP Útgerð, says he will focus on sea cucumber instead, and import minke whale meat from Norway to meet what little demand remains. He predicted his company would resume hunting for minke in spring 2020.

Efforts to curb commercial whaling have stepped up in recent decades: In 1982, the International Whaling Commission (IWC) announced an international moratorium on whale hunting to go into effect by 1986. Several countries have issued scientific permits for killing whales—including Japan, Norway and Iceland—and the ban still allows aboriginal communities to hunt whales as part of their culture.

The ban doesn't make whaling illegal, per se—it's a voluntary group with limited tools to enforce regulations. Still, many researchers argue non-lethal methods are just as effective in examining whale populations. And conservationists complain the scientific exemption is merely a loophole for commercial whalers to exploit.

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The majority of Iceland's whaling industry involves export to Japan Getty Images

Japan resumed large-scale whaling this year, after its 2018 proposal to renew commercial whaling was rejected by the IWC. In response to that rejection, Japan left the commission and began permitting whaling in its own exclusive economic zone. Officials claimed that, prior to its leaving the IWC, whaling in Japan was done for scientific purposes, but that companies would legally sell the meat once the whales were slaughtered and examined by a research vessel.

During the 2017 whaling season, anti-whaling groups were outraged by Japanese whalers slaughtering some 122 pregnant minke whales out of a total hunt of 333 whales.

Icelandic whalers have also landed in hot water for their practices: Last summer, conservation group Hard to Port accused whaling company Kvalur hf of killing a protected blue whale .

"This is an unacceptable tragedy that leaves people around the world speechless," Hard To Port CEO Arne Feuerhahn told Newsweek at the time."It is very unfortunate that the reckless and irresponsible actions of a single individual stain the reputation of this progressive and beautiful country."