On July 19, 2011, U.S. Commerce Secretary Gary Locke wrote a letter to U.S. President Barack Obama that addressed Iceland’s continued whaling practices, forcing action by the US Federal Government. According to the letter, Iceland killed 273 endangered fin whales in 2009 and 2010. Iceland has not harvested any fin whales so far in 2011, mainly because Japan—its No. 1 consumer—is recouping from a disastrous March earthquake. The country, however, has continued to hunt another sensitive species, the minke whale, in 2011.
The International Whaling Commission (IWC), established through the International Convention for the Regulation of Whaling, signed in Washington D.C. on Dec. 2, 1946, was created to regulate all types of whaling to ensure the conservation of whales. The IWC set catch limits for all commercial whaling at zero in 1982, and imposed a global moratorium on commercial whaling in 1986. Iceland abided by the moratorium until 1992 when it withdrew from the IWC, Locke said. Then in 2002, Iceland rejoined the IWC only to again begin hunting whales in 2006.
Iceland is not alone. Ironically, Japan is also one of the largest country that continues to hunt whales. Through a loophole in IWC regulations, Japan claims that whales are being killed for scientific research. Iceland, too, exploits loopholes in the ban in order to keep slaughtering whales for profit. Together, Japan, Iceland and Norway have killed roughly 30,000 whales since the moratorium was introduced. Prior to the IWC whaling moratorium, roughly 38,000 whales were killed annually between 1945 and 1986, compared with an average of 1,240 whales killed per year after the moratorium (1987 onwards), according to the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC).
Whales are majestic creatures and are a crucial part of the marine ecosystems that make up part of the largest aquatic system on the planet, covering more than 70 percent of the Earth’s surface, according to the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Since industrial whaling emerged in the 17th century, more than a million whales have been killed globally, according to the Australian government.
Groups like the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society (SSCS), which was established in 1977 to conserve and fight for marine wildlife, are modern day heroes protecting whales in the open sea. Its mission, according to their website is to end the destruction of habitat and slaughter of wildlife in the world’s oceans in order to conserve and protect ecosystems and species.
On Nov. 7, 2008, Animal Planet began airing the first season of “Whale Wars” so the public can physically see what goes on miles and miles into the sea. In the popular series, cameras follow the crew aboard the Sea Shepherd as they keep whalers in check and literally intercept the inhumane killings.
Because Locke issued the letter to be in compliance with the Pelly Amendment to the Fishermen’s Protective Act of 1967, Obama is required to “direct the Secretary of the Treasury to prohibit the importation into the United States of any products from Iceland for any duration as (he) determine appropriate and to the extent such prohibition is sanctioned by the World Trade Organization.” The president also must report to Congress within 60 days of the letter.
In his letter, Locke recommends the following actions:
(1) direct relevant U.S. delegations attending meetings with Iceland and senior Administration officials visiting Iceland to raise U.S. concerns regarding commercial whaling by Icelandic companies and seek ways to halt such action; (2) direct Cabinet secretaries to evaluate the appropriateness of visits to Iceland depending on continuation of the current suspension of fin whaling; (3) direct the Department of State to examine Arctic cooperation projects, and where appropriate, link U.S. cooperation to the Icelandic Government changing its whaling policy and abiding by the IWC moratorium on commercial whaling; (4) direct the Departments of Commerce and State to consult with other international actors on efforts to end Icelandic commercial whaling and have Iceland abide by the IWC moratorium on commercial whaling; (5) direct the Department of State to inform the Government of Iceland that the United States will continue to monitor the activities of Icelandic companies that engage in commercial whaling; and (6) direct relevant U.S. agencies to continue to examine other options for responding to continued whaling by Iceland.
“NRDC: Press Release – Proposal to Legalize Commercial Whale Hunting Released.” NRDC: Natural Resources Defense Council – The Earth’s Best Defense. 22 Apr. 2010. Web. 27 July 2011.
“Whale Protection.” http://www.environment.gov.au. Australian Government, May 2010. Web. 20 July 2011.
“Our History.” Sea Shepherd. Web. 27 July 2011.
Keiper, Lauren. “Record Number of Endangered Whales Expected off Cape Cod | Reuters.” Business & Financial News, Breaking US & International News | Reuters.com. 22 Apr. 2011. Web. 27 July 2011.
“U.S. Commerce Secretary Gary Locke Certifies That Iceland’s Whaling Undermines the International Whaling Commission.” Department of Commerce. U.S. Commerce, 20 July 2011. Web. 27 July 2011.