Iceland has announced it will end a 14-year moratorium on whaling, sparking anger around the world.

Fisheries minister Arni Mathiesen made the announcement yesterday [Wednesday], asking for clearance to start by hunting 38 minke whales this month and in September. These proposals are scaled down from an earlier application to hunt 50 sei whales, 100 fin whales and 100 minke whales a year for the next two years.

The International Whaling Commission (IWC) has banned commercial whaling. However, Mathiesen argued that Iceland needed to hunt whales for the purpose of scientific research, to research whales’ diets by examining the contents of their stomachs.

The US immediately expressed its disappointment at Iceland’s stance and warned that it might impose punitive trade sanctions.

“While Iceland’s programme is technically legal [under the IWC), the United States believes that the lethal research on whales they propose is not necessary and that the needed scientific data can be obtained by other well-established non-lethal means,” said deputy state department spokesman Philip Reeker.

“The taking of whales will likely trigger a review of Iceland’s lethal scientific whaling programme for possible certification under the Pelly Amendment which provides for a range of US responses, including trade sanctions,” he added.

The New Zealand government also criticised Iceland’s position, with foreign affairs minister Phil Goff and conservation minister Chris Carter saying there was no justification for any country to carry out a lethal whaling programme in the interests of science when modern non-lethal research techniques can generate all the information required by the IWC scientific committee.