The Icelandic government has announced that it is suspending whaling until the end of August due to concerns about the well-being of marine mammals, a decision that brings hope for a permanent global halt to this practice.• ecologic
„We have made the decision to suspend whaling until August 31“, said Fisheries and Agriculture Minister Svadis Svavrsdottir after a government report concluded that whaling failed to comply with Icelandic animal welfare law, according to The Guardian.
Scientists and animal rights groups welcomed the decision, with Humane Society International calling it „a significant milestone for the protection of whales“.
The recent investigation by the Icelandic Veterinary and Food Authority into whaling, based on legal animal welfare objectives, found that the killing of whales „has taken too long“. In addition, the authority described as „extremely shocking“ a video showing the agony of a whale that had been chased by whale hunters for five hours.
Iceland currently has a single whaling company, Hvalur, whose license to hunt humpback whales expires this year. Another Icelandic company suspended its operations indefinitely in 2020, citing the too-low profits it has made in recent years.
The season of whaling in Iceland begins in mid-June and ends in mid-September, which is why Hvalur is unlikely to launch its ships so late in the season.
In Iceland, the annual quotas allow 209 humpback whales and 217 small whales to be killed. However, catches have fallen sharply in recent years due to much lower demand from whale meat consumers.
„The whales are already facing so many serious threats in the oceans from pollution, climate change, entangling in nets, hitting ships, that ending brutal commercial whaling is the only ethical solution to be taken“, said Ruud Tombrock, director of the Humane Society International.
Iceland, Norway and Japan are currently the only countries in the world where whaling continues despite strong reactions from other countries, citizens, experts and environmental organisations.
Humpback whales Humpback whale is the second largest species after the blue whale which is the largest marine mammal. They can reach a length of up to 18 meters and a weight of 48 tons and move more slowly than other whales, their swimming speed varying during migrations between 8 and 15 km/h. At the same time, the humpback whale is one of the most energetic and „acrobatic“ whales, its jumping over the water attracts the admiration of tourists.
Humpback whales are also known for their unusually complex vocal repertoire that probably plays a primary role in the breeding period. Although females can make various sounds, only males can perform long-lasting „songs“. Each song is composed of sounds taken out in a lower register, which vary in amplitude and frequency and last 10-20 minutes, and these songs can be repeated for several hours or even days. It has been observed that males accompanying females with chicks sing more often and longer than others.
Songs differ from one population to another and can change during reproduction. Australian bio acoustician Michael Noad discovered in 1996 that humpback whales can pick up songs from other groups when groups mingle during the summer. It has also been observed that almost always male songs end in conflict. Whales make melodious sounds outside the breeding period, which demonstrates their role in everyday communication or echolocation. Recent research has revealed that these songs have a hierarchical syntax, characteristic of human speech, that is, their sounds are composed of identical „words“ and syllables united in sentences. The breeding, gestation and birth of humpback whales are usually concentrated in the winter-spring season when the animals are in subtropical or tropical waters. Up to 20 males fight to conquer one female. Sexual intercourse takes place in a very romantic atmosphere: the male and female swim side by side, touch their pectoral fins, hit the water with their tail, then slowly rise to the surface, swimming vertically in spiral, with the abdomens glued.
Gestation lasts for about 11 months, and the embryo develops very quickly, growing by 17-35 cm per month. Newborns have an average body length of 4.5 m and weigh between 700 and 2.000 kg. Mothers breastfeed their puppies for up to 10 to 11 months, but the pup can feed on its own already from the age of six months. When the chicken is weaned, it measures 8-9 m in length and weighs almost 9 tons. Mothers take care of their offspring until they are one year old, rarely up to two years old. Males do not participate in the care of puppies.
The longevity of humpback whales is not known mainly due to excessive hunting campaigns. It is estimated that humpback whales can live around 40-50 years. The oldest male ever captured was about 48 years old and the oldest female was 38 years old.
Of all whales, humpback whales suffer the most from ectoparasites. This is related to the low speed of movement of the animal because of which parasites can easily settle on its skin. The images of whales jumping entirely above the waves in an upright position and then falling with a deafening noise are those of humpback whales that are likely trying to get rid of parasites.•