Conservationists are calling for an immediate end to commercial whaling in Iceland after genetic testing revealed a whale harpooned in Icelandic waters earlier this month was a rare blue/fin whale hybrid.
International outcry ensued after it was revealed that on July 7, whalers working for Hvalur hf the only Icelandic company involved in fin whaling, under CEO Kristjan Loftsson’s, had killed a whale which photographic evidence strongly suggested was either a blue whale or a rare blue/fin whale hybrid. In early June, Loftsson announced his company’s intention to resume the hunting and killing of fin whales, the planets’ second largest and endangered whale species. There had been no fin whaling in Iceland since 2015, after Loftsson himself cited difficulties in trading the whale meat with its primary market of Japan alongside decreasing cultural acceptance for the hunt.
The International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW), which opposes all commercial whaling, has repeatedly called on Loftsson and Hvalur hf to end whaling operations immediately and permanently. However, the killing has continued with a staggering quota of 238 individuals for 2018, despite even the declining social acceptance for the practice.
Experts at Iceland’s Marine Research Institute, which undertook genetic analysis to determine the species, have now confirmed it was indeed a blue/fin whale hybrid, the offspring of a female blue whale and a male fin whale. Blue whales, the largest whale species on the planet, have been protected under international law since 1966 as populations have been nearly decimated by commercial whaling. While such hybrids have previously been recorded by scientists, they are rare and hence protected by international conventions. International trade of blue whales or blue/fin whale hybrids or any of their parts is illegal.
Sigursteinn Masson, IFAW’s Icelandic Representative, said: “The killing of a blue/fin whale hybrid demonstrates the difficulty for whalers at sea to identify which species they are actually pursuing. The result is that a rare and protected species ultimately suffers the collateral damage resulting from an unnecessary and culturally unpopular hunt. Now that the evidence has been confirmed, we yet again call for an immediate and permanent end to this practice to prevent further harm to these endangered species which not only play a crucial role within the marine ecosystem, but also embody such a rich national and cultural heritage as well.”
According to a recent Gallup poll commissioned by IFAW, only 1% of Icelanders claim to eat whale meat regularly and 81% have never eaten it at all. Support for fine whaling has declined 21.5 percentage points (from 56.9 to 35.4) from just four years ago.*
In conjunction with Icelandic whale watching coalition Icewhale, IFAW has also been working closely with Icelandic politicians and the general public, while simultaneously educating tourists about the realities of whaling and whale meat consumption through its Meet Us Don’t Eat Us campaign. The campaign promotes whale watching over whale hunting. The touristic practice generates an estimated $26M annually in revenues for the local economy and has hosted an estimated 350,000 whale watchers per year.
Masson added that “IFAW has worked alongside Icelanders for generations to promote responsible whale watching and support the active conservation of whale species. The economic as well as cultural value is far greater with the species alive. This is not only sound for Iceland’s domestic economy, but also improves our overall standing within the global community as well.”