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Obama Isn’t Saving the Whales

Without Economic Sanctions it’s Unlikely Iceland will End its Whaling Program

There is nothing quite like a trade sanction to help persuade a country into changing its behaviour. Which is why President Obama’s decision to waive all economic sanctions against Iceland for their illegal whaling operations has left people scratching their heads.

Earth Island Institute’s International Marine Mammal Project and other environmental and animal welfare organizations, along with several members of Congress, had urged President Obama to impose strong economic sanctions against Iceland, to no avail.

Despite acknowledging that Iceland’s commercial whaling is undermining multilateral conservation efforts for these endangered and highly intelligent mammals, Obama said in a statement to Congress that he would not direct trade sanctions against the country,  instead he is opting for moderate approaches such as diplomatic visits and linking U.S. cooperation in joint Arctic projects with Iceland’s modifications of its whaling policy.

Iceland is one of three remaining whaling nations, along with Japan and Norway. It resumed commercial whaling in 2006 in direct contravention of the global moratorium imposed by the International Whaling Commission (IWC) in 1986. All three countries have been listed under the Pelly Amendment, which allows for economic sanctions against countries that violate global fisheries conservation agreements. Yet, to this day, no sanctions have been levied on any of these nations.

It is a well-known fact that there is no humane way to kill a whale. A whale’s death at the hands of the Icelandic fleet can take upwards of 30 minutes of intense agony as it struggles to escape after being harpooned. Eventually it succumbs, exhausted, and is dragged onto the flensing platform. It is assumed that some of the whales are still alive when the whalers begin to butcher them.

Whales possess of the largest brains on the planet. They are sentient, highly social and peaceful creatures. They can also form the basis of a profitable tourism industry, as millions of people each year flock to whale-watching boats in order to catch a glimpse of a tail fluke as it disappears beneath the surface.

But this seems to mean nothing to Hvalur, Iceland’s whaling company, which killed about 150 fin whales, including 60 and 80 minke whales, last year alone – thereby threatening the very existence of a species that is teetering on the brink of extinction.

Without hard-hitting economic sanctions, it is unlikely that Iceland will feel enough pressure to end its illegal whaling program. The nation has plans to resume whaling in 2012, flouting the law and, apparently, getting away with it yet again. We can only hope that Obama will come to his senses and begin to enact the sanctions that he has a right, and an obligation, to impose.

Laura Bridgeman has long been interested in environmental issues. After graduating from university in Canada, she came to work with the Earth Island Institute to follow her passion. She works closely with Ric O’Barry’s Save Japan Dolphins project and is also involved in fostering youth leadership with the Institute’s New Leaders Initiative. 

Laura Bridgeman, Campaign & Communications Specialist, International Marine Mammal Project
Laura Bridgeman has long been interested in environmental issues. After graduating from university in Canada, she came to work with the Earth Island Institute to follow her passion. She works closely with Ric O'Barry's Save Japan Dolphins project and is also involved in fostering youth leadership with Earth Island Institute's New Leaders Initiative.

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