THE ICELANDIC WORD HVALREKI means both "beached whale" and "jackpot." This gives you a sense of how dearly the island country views its cetaceans. For centuries, whales have been a huge source of national and gustatory pride.
Nonetheless, Iceland has mostly adhered to a 2-decade-old global ban on commercial whaling. Until this week, that is, when the country announced that it would immediately resume hunting whales. Everyone from Greenpeace to the Bush administration has rightly condemned the move, and Iceland should reverse its irresponsible decision before doing irreversible harm.
But that alone won't protect the world's whales. For that, we'll need one of two things: a real regulatory system for whaling that environmentalists and whale-hunting nations can agree on, or an outright worldwide ban on hunting whales. What this week's news shows is that the current system -- an undefined temporary ban -- isn't feasible anymore.
Whales have been an environmental icon for decades, ever since Greenpeace activists began storming whaling boats and concerned drivers started slapping "Save the Whales" stickers on their Volvos. At the time, whale populations had been decimated by centuries of hunting, and some of the mammal's 37 species were at risk of extinction. In 1986, many countries, including the United States, signed on to an international ban.