The end of Whaling in Iceland, end of an era, or sensible financial move

Whaling went on for centuries, in many parts of the world. One of these was Iceland, where due to the latitude, it is often hard to grow much food. Iceland did not end whaling when it was banned by the international community, and since then have hunted and killed around 1800. They returned to hunting fin whales last year, but what is clear, is that not only do the Icelandic people not want to eat the whale meat, but there is little hunger for it elsewhere in the world. Indeed, whaling is incredibly expensive, and has only stayed afloat through government support.

Whales are essential to the worlds oceans, both through their fertilization through their waste, and the vast amounts of carbon that they sequester over their lives. For the foreseeable time we need every living whale we can have, in the fight against the damage which humans are doing to the planet.

North Atlantic right whale population appears to be stabilizing!

The population of the north Atlantic right whales appears to have stabilized at around 350, having fallen from a peak of 483 in just 2010. In 2022 there were 356, down from 364 in just 2021.

Never a highly numerous species (it would appear) around 5500 were taken in the 3 centuries of whaling. The problem now, is that the population is so small that any looses imperil the whole species. Further, given the large amount of boating in the area, many of the remaining individuals have propeller scaring, and collisions are common and occasionally fatal.

Time will tell if this species can recover, though tourism interest is likely to give them a higher value to the local community and may help save the species.

Below is a short 5 minute video from the NOAA  (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration)

To visit our North atlantic right whale page click here   Should you operate in tourism for this species, do get in touch, we would love to help people find you- it costs nothing to be linked, we only take a small cut of any income we find for you. Click on List your wild place at the top of the page, or here


Sei Whale

Sei Whale

The third largest after the blue and the fin whale, it is found in most of the worlds deep oceans, though it avoids the tropics and the polar regions. It can reach lengths of 19.5m and weights of 28 tonnes, it is capable of consuming 900kg of food in a day.

It can reach speeds of over 30 mph (50kmh) over short distances making it one of the fastest whales. During commercial whaling, around 250,000 were taken, and the population fell to between 7000 and 13,000. This has thankfully recovered to 80,000 but is clearly still not near its pre-whaling numbers.

Sei is the Norweigen word for the Pollark fish which appears off the coast at the same time of year, to feast on the plankton which is abundant at that time of year.

They generally migrate away from the poles to spend the winters in warmer waters.

Mass stranding events (over 300 dying at a time on occasion) happen from time to time, and while we are not sure what causes this, we think it is likely some sort of poisoning of their waters – such as a red tide. 

Humpback whale

Humpback whale

The humpback whale is a widely recognized species. Weighing around 40 tonnes, and measuring 14-17m. It is known for its habit of breaching (as above) which can be heard from miles away, and its incredibly complex song, which can last between 4 minutes and 33.

Their low sounds can be heard by whales 1000 miles away, and have been picked up by electronic sources far further away than that.

Whaling did horrific damage to this species, with their population falling to just 5000 in the 1960s. Thankfully, having been protected, the population is now around 135,000. Subspecies are more varied, with those in the northern hemisphere less secure. The least secure is the Arabian sea population, which is thought to be isolated for 70,000 years and there are only 80 that remain.

Threats to individual whales include entanglement in fishing gear, ocean noise and collisions with ships.

They are known to have hunting methods more complex than most baleen whales, including bubble netting which forces the fish into tighter shoals to then be taken in one mouthful.

Young are predated by orca in some parts of the world, and many carry scars from these encounters to the end of their lives.


Fin Whale

Fin Whale

The fin whale which is also known as finback whale or common rorqual and formerly known as herring whale or razorback whale, is the second longest species of whale, with the largest species growing to a reported 27m, and weighing a maximum recorded weight of 74 tonnes, and a maximum estimated weight of 114 tonnes.

It is a fast swimmer, able to outpace the fastest steamships.

There are 2 recognized subspecies, in the northern and southern hemisphere. Around 725,000 southern fin whales were taken during whaling, and there are around 38,000 that roam the oceans as of 1997. Across the world around 112,000 roam the oceans.

Although the genetic differences between the fin whale and the blue whale are considered similar to that of humans and gorillas (they are thought to have been split for 3.5 million years) and hybrids have been recorded from time to time.

Average dives are around 6 minutes, with the longest dives recorded being around 17 minutes.

Found around the world, though not found close to the polar ice caps at either end of the globe. They appear to be clearly migratory, but it has not been possible to fully work out what this migration pattern might be.



Blue Whale

Blue whale

The largest species of whale, the largest species of mammal, indeed at almost 30m the largest species ever known to live on earth, they can weigh up to 200 tonnes. There are 4 subspecies with a possible 5 in contention.

Abundant in almost all of the worlds oceans until the 19th century, they were hunted close to extinction. In 1966 hunting of them were banned.

There are places around the world, where these animals can be watched, we hope to link to many of these below.

At their peak, before whaling, it was thought that their was around 350,000 in the world. Now there is between 10,000 and 25,000 around the world.

It is certainly not the time to allow them to be hunted again, far from it.

One recent suggestion, is that whales sink huge quantities of carbon down into the ocean, and that our current problems with global warming might have been tiny if we had not killed the vast majority of most species of Baleen whales.

Below is a small outtake from blue planet, the bbc series from 2001 which features a blue whale in the vastness of the ocean

I have included a second video clip, as this one give you an idea of the size and shape of a blue whale, in a way that little footage does.

Below this is any articles that have been written about blue whales on this website, and below that, we will add any links that might help you see blue whales in the wild.

Southern (Antarctic) Minke whale

Antarctic (Southern) Minke whale

Bizarrely, having been described in the 1850s it was not recognized as a separate species until the 1990s. Thankfully, largely ignored by whalers, it came out of the whaling age with a population that still numbered in the hundreds of thousands – with current estimates falling around half a million individuals.

The Antarctic and the Southern Minke whales are thought to have diverged around 4.7 million years ago. They are found throughout much of the Southern hemisphere.

They are the main prey item for type A killer whales, with multiple occasions this hunt having been watched. There has been a recorded occasion when a group of 10 type B killer whales also killed one of these whales.

Bowhead whale

Bowhead whale

Also known as Greenland right whale, Arctic whale, steeple-top, and polar whale, they are closely related to the right whales, the bowhead whale looks quite different. It is in a different genus to the other right whales (so is a more distant relation.

The only whale that is endemic to the Arctic and sub-arctic, its mouth is a third of the size of the body. They are incredible long lived often living to 200 years old. They have incredibly thick skulls, which allows them to use their heads to break through the arctic ice.

Unfortunately, they were an early target of whalers, and so in 1966 hunting of them was banned. They have recovered to the point where out of the 5 subpopulations, 3 are endangered, one is vulnerable and the last one currently classed as low risk. Another unfortunate effect of whaling, was to put an end to the summer habits of the bowhead whale – before whaling, it appears that different whale populations would cross seas during the summer, and interbreed.

  1. The Western Arctic stock in the Bering, Chukchi, and Beaufort Seas estimated at 12,500 (though with 95% confidence range 8000-19500         
  2. The Hudson Bay and Foxe Basin stock estimated at 345 with a high confidence
  3. the Baffin Bay and Davis Strait stock which is estimated at over 1000 individuals
  4. the Sea of Okhotsk stock contains only 100-200
  5.  The Svalbard-Barents Sea stock was hunted to near extinction. As such while I cannot find a number, it is unlikely to have a large population

North Atlantic right whale

North Altantic Right Whale

Once thought to exist in numbers between 9000 and 21000, but whaling pushed them close to extinction – with estimates of just a couple of hundred. In the intervening years, since 1986, the population has reached 350 – potentially doubling the population in just 37 years. However, we need to remember that only around 70 of these are breeding age females. A healthy population can expect breeding females to produce a calf every 3 years or so. Unfortunately, given the entanglements and other things that are stressing these whales, the gap between young is currently in the range 6-10 years. This means we can expect 7-11 calves a year – which suggests that for the population to double again in 37 year – we need a survival rate of over 90%

Should the population continue to grow on at that speed, it will take around 180 years for this population to recover.

Places to try to see them include

  • Jacksonville, Florida
  •  Hilton-head Island
Generally, anywhere along this section of the American coast they are a possibility.  Directly below this is a video of this whale species, and below this is a list of any mentions that this whale has had on this website (if any). As we get links, they will appear below these two sections.

Iceland to end commercial whaling in 2024 as demand for the meat has disappeared

For most of us, whaling is distasteful. What has become clear is that whales are essentially swimming trees in terms of their positive impact on carbon emissions.

It is therefore quite frustrating that several nations continue to demand the ability to hunt whales.

Thankfully there is now so little demand for whale meet, that Iceland is going to end its hunt.

Continue reading “Iceland to end commercial whaling in 2024 as demand for the meat has disappeared”

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