Iceland Moves Forward with Whale Hunting

Iceland has made a decision that puts it at odds with most nations. It has decided to allow commercial whale hunting in the North Atlantic.

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Iceland has decided to allow a commercial whale hunt in the North Atlantic. The decision puts Iceland at odds with most nations of the world. There's been an international ban on commercial whaling since the mid-1980s, with some exceptions for native peoples and for killing whales for research. The decision has already stirred up controversy. Here's NPR's Christopher Joyce.

CHRISTOPHER JOYCE: The 19th century was Armageddon for whales. Many species were hunted to the brink of extinction, and even now, many are still endangered. The International Whaling Commission, which studies whales and governs whaling among its members, set a moratorium on commercial whale hunting in 1986. Some countries, such as Japan and Iceland, still kill whales for what they call research. Norway hunts them commercially and sells the meat. Now, Iceland will follow Norway. Icelandic hunters will take 30 minke and nine fin whales over the next year and sell the meat. Iceland's ambassador to the U.S., Helgi Agustsson, says there's no reason to hold back.

Ambassador HELGI AGUSTSSON (Iceland's Ambassador to the United States): We know about the whale stocks are plentiful, and they should be utilized in a sustainable manner like any other resource. It isn't about the money. It's about the principle.

JOYCE: The principle being that Iceland has a right to harvest whales. Whale biologists agree that minke whales are numerous. Fin whales are considered threatened under international standards. Sue Lieberman of the World Wildlife Fund says the number of whales Iceland plans to hunt isn't really the main issue. She says Iceland simply doesn't need to do it.

Dr. SUE LIEBERMAN (World Wide Life Fund): They don't need to feed the hungry of Iceland by any stretch of the imagination. I think they're doing it to be confrontational, and I think they're doing it to say look at us, we can do this.

JOYCE: Lieberman says she thinks the decision is an effort to undercut the whaling commission, which has denied Iceland's efforts to rejoin the group. And even if the Icelandic hunt doesn't seriously deplete whale numbers, she wonders whether the whaling commission can hold the line now that Iceland has decided to ignore the ban.

Dr. LIEBERMAN: Is there a mechanism in place to make sure it doesn't escalate? And suddenly we get Chinese, Korean and Russian fleets as well, starting to kill whales.

JOYCE: Other opponent argues that it's simply wrong to kill any whales, regardless of their abundance in the ocean. Kitty Block is with the International Humane Society.

Ms. KITTY BLOCK (International Humane Society): These animals are long lived, slowly to reproduce. These are sentient animals. They have strong family bonds.

JOYCE: Iceland's whale hunt begins this year and is set to end next August.

Christopher Joyce, NPR News.

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