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One of the World's Last Remaining Whaling Companies Is Hanging Up Its Harpoons

Iceland’s Hvalur company caught and slaughtered 155 fin whales in 2015 — but is halting its operations in the face of Japanese import restrictions.
Foto di Gisli Pall Gudjonsson/EPA

One of the world's last whaling companies has announced that it won't be manning the harpoons this summer, deciding it's too hard to market the meat.

Iceland's Hvalur company caught and slaughtered 155 fin whales in the waters of the far North in 2015 — but CEO Kristján Loftsson told the Icelandic newspaper Morgunbladid that Japan, where its catch is sold, has put up "endless obstacles" to its markets. The Japanese are insisting that Icelandic whale meat pass a full chemical analysis before going to market, Loftsson said.

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"If Japan does not adopt modern testing methods such as used in Iceland … Hvalur will no longer be able to hunt whales for the Japanese market," Loftsson told the newspaper Thursday.

'It's clear that there is simply no place today for commercial whaling.'

The news brought cheers from conservationists who have long fought the world's few remaining commercial whalers.

"This is incredible news and a significant blow to the future of the outdated and unnecessary slaughter of whales for profit," Greenpeace Senior Oceans Campaigner Phil Kline said in a statement Thursday afternoon. Fin whales are supposed to be under international protection, and both Iceland and Japan have surpluses of whale meat, he said.

"It's clear that there is simply no place today for commercial whaling," Kline added.

The International Fund for Animal Welfare is "heartened" by today's news, the group's whale program director, Patrick Ramage, wrote on its website.

"Having so long publicly criticized his whaling, we today commend Mr. Loftsson on his decision, which is a very positive development for Iceland, for whales, and for the millions of people around the world who care about both," Ramage wrote.

Fin whales are the world's second-largest animal, growing as large as 80 feet (24 meters). They're classified as an endangered species, with fewer than 90,000 believed to remain worldwide, according to the World Wildlife Fund.

Only Iceland and Norway still allow commercial whaling, defying a nearly 30-year-old international moratorium. Japan's controversial whale hunts are conducted under a "research" exemption that international monitors consider dubious.

Hvalur's harvest made news in 2015, when a ship carrying fin whale meat evaded anti-whaling activists from the conservation group Sea Shepherd by sailing for Japan via the Russian Arctic—a passage made possible by the shrinking icepack at the top of the world. A Sea Shepherd vessel was denied Russian permission to pursue the freighter through the Northern Sea Route, an increasingly ice-free stretch of the Arctic Ocean that hugs the Russian coast.

Related: A Japanese Company Went Whaling in a Marine Sanctuary, So Australia Just Fined It $1 Million

Follow Matt Smith on Twitter: @mattsmithatl