The Icelandic government suspended whale hunting until the end of August, in the name of animal welfare, paving the way for the end of this controversial tradition that is now only practiced in three countries.
Animal rights and environmental groups applauded the decision, which the Humane Society International called "an important turn in the compassionate conservation of whales."
"I have decided to suspend whale hunting" until August 31, said Minister of Fisheries Svandis Svavarsdottir, after a report from a government commission established that the hunting of whales does not comply with Iceland's animal welfare laws.
This report from veterinary authorities emphasizes that the killing of whales takes too long. In the latest videos released by these authorities, the excruciating agony of a whale hunted last year for five hours was highlighted.
"If the government and permit holders cannot guarantee welfare requirements, this activity has no future," added the minister, implying that this practice is coming to an end.
The fishing license of the country's last remaining whale hunting company, Hvalur, expires in 2023. The company had already announced that this season would be the last because the activity had become unprofitable.
The whale hunting season in Iceland runs from mid-June to mid-September, but it is unlikely to resume after August 31.
Annual quotas allow for the hunting of 209 common minke whales - the second-longest marine mammal after the blue whale - and 217 smaller fin whales.
But catches have been much lower in recent years due to the decline in demand for whale meat.
Iceland, Norway, and Japan are the only countries that allow whale hunting.
Growing opposition from the population
"There is no 'humane' way to kill a whale at sea, and we therefore urge the minister to permanently ban it," Humane Society International director Ruud Tombrock said in a statement.
"Whales already face so many serious threats in the oceans due to pollution, climate change, getting entangled in fishing nets, and collisions with ships, that ending commercial whale hunting is the only ethical conclusion," he added.
Opposition to this practice is now majority among the Icelandic population. 51% of Icelanders oppose it (compared to 42% four years ago), according to a survey conducted by the Maskina Institute, whose results were released in early June.