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Iceland’s Fin Whale Hunt Cancelled for 2016

Great news. Word today from colleagues in Iceland and now reports in both Icelandic and English-language media confirm that the planned hunt for fin whales will not happen this summer. The man behind that whaling is claiming that he’s stopping because of "hindrances" in exporting the meat. That’s great news for whales and everyone who has been opposing this needless, senseless hunt.

Fin whales are amazing. The second largest animal on our planet growing up to 27 meters in length (that’s about two and a half double-decker buses) and are found all over the globe. They’re nicknamed the "greyhounds of the sea," because they are sleek, streamlined swimming machines. They are listed as internationally endangered, largely because these massive whales were some of the first targets of the harpoons of factory whaling in the 20th century and their populations were virtually wiped out in many areas.

Over the past few years Iceland has defied international opinion and public outcry and allowed one man, Kristian Loftsson, to restart a fin whale hunt. This hunt of an internationally endangered species is quite impossible to defend. It makes no environmental, economic or social sense to Iceland. There is no market for the meat in Iceland, the blubber (and often more) is discarded as being "unfit for human consumption" and the tentative trade to Japan makes no sense—not least since they too have stockpiles of unwanted whale meat and are concerned about toxic pollution.

Greenpeace supporters have played a crucial role in highlighting and even blockading some of these illicit shipments. When tens of thousands of supporters raised there voices for whales, President Obama imposed diplomatic sanctions on Iceland. And activists have blocked ports in the Netherlands and Germany and challenged shipments through Canada, exposed desperate shipment through the Arctic and mobilized massive public support to block whale meat trade via South Africa. And let’s not forget there is no economic rationale for these hunts and this trade and fin whales are supposed to be protected species internationally. As well as that, whales and other marine life in the North Atlantic have been shown to suffer particularly badly from toxins. That’s why people are advised to avoid eating whale blubber or too many portions of fatty fish and recent studies suggest some populations of whales in the North Atlantic might ultimately go extinct as a result of pollution alone.

Greenpeace activists protest against the transport of fin whale meat. Photo credit: Joerg Modrow / Greenpeace

Over recent decades tourism has become a much more significant economic activity in Iceland than whaling could ever be and the growth of whale-watching has been one of the greatest success stories of all. Iceland is now a destination synonymous with scenery and wildlife, which has increasingly brought the tourist industry into conflict with Loftsson’s ego-driven hunt.

There’s simply no place today for commercial whaling and the world’s remaining whales, dolphins and porpoises face a whole host of threats from us humans that we collectively aren’t tackling—from climate change, to pollution and industrial fishing. Stopping the senseless charade of commercial whaling for good needs to happen so we can get on with the other stuff.

So when Loftsson says he is stopping because of "hindrances," it sounds like a very diplomatic version of the truth to save face. But let’s hope that the cancelling of this year’s hunt is the end of this indefensible outrage for good.

That would be even better news for the whales, for Iceland and for the oceans.

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A volcano erupts on New Zealand's Whakaari/White Island on Dec. 9, 2019. Michael Schade / Twitter

A powerful volcano on Monday rocked an uninhabited island frequented by tourists about 30 miles off New Zealand's coast. Authorities have confirmed that five people died. They expect that number to rise as some are missing and police officials issued a statement that flights around the islands revealed "no signs of life had been seen at any point,", as The Guardian reported.

"Based on the information we have, we do not believe there are any survivors on the island," the police said in their official statement. "Police is working urgently to confirm the exact number of those who have died, further to the five confirmed deceased already."

The eruption happened on New Zealand's Whakaari/White Island, an islet jutting out of the Bay of Plenty, off the country's North Island. The island is privately owned and is typically visited for day-trips by thousands of tourists every year, according to The New York Times.

Michael Schade / Twitter

At the time of the eruption on Monday, about 50 passengers from the Ovation of Seas were on the island, including more than 30 who were part of a Royal Caribbean cruise trip, according to CNN. Twenty-three people, including the five dead, were evacuated from the island.

The eruption occurred at 2:11 pm local time on Monday, as footage from a crater camera owned and operated by GeoNet, New Zealand's geological hazards agency, shows. The camera also shows dozens of people walking near the rim as white smoke billows just before the eruption, according to Reuters.

Police were unable to reach the island because searing white ash posed imminent danger to rescue workers, said John Tims, New Zealand's deputy police commissioner, as he stood next to Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern in a press conference, as The New York Times reported. Tims said rescue workers would assess the safety of approaching the island on Tuesday morning. "We know the urgency to go back to the island," he told reporters.

"The physical environment is unsafe for us to return to the island," Tims added, as CNN reported. "It's important that we consider the health and safety of rescuers, so we're taking advice from experts going forward."

Authorities have had no communication with anyone on the island. They are frantically working to identify how many people remain and who they are, according to CNN.

Geologists said the eruption is not unexpected and some questioned why the island is open to tourism.

"The volcano has been restless for a few weeks, resulting in the raising of the alert level, so that this eruption is not really a surprise," said Bill McGuire, emeritus professor of geophysical and climate hazards at University College London, as The Guardian reported.

"White Island has been a disaster waiting to happen for many years," said Raymond Cas, emeritus professor at Monash University's school of earth, atmosphere and environment, as The Guardian reported. "Having visited it twice, I have always felt that it was too dangerous to allow the daily tour groups that visit the uninhabited island volcano by boat and helicopter."

The prime minister arrived Monday night in Whakatane, the town closest to the eruption, where day boats visiting the island are docked. Whakatane has a large Maori population.

Ardern met with local council leaders on Monday. She is scheduled to meet with search and rescue teams and will speak to the media at 7 a.m. local time (1 p.m. EST), after drones survey the island, as CNN reported.

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