A hybrid fin/blue whale poached by Icelandic company Kristjan Loftsson’s Hvalur hf, the only Icelandic company involved in fin whaling. Photo: Hard to Port

WASHINGTON, 20 July 2018 (IFAW) – 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.

There was international outcry after it was revealed that on July 7, whalers working for Kristjan Loftsson’s Hvalur hf, the only Icelandic company involved in fin whaling, had killed a whale which photographic evidence strongly suggested was either a blue whale or a rare blue/fin whale hybrid.

The International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW), which opposes all commercial whaling due to its inherent cruelty, called on Mr Loftsson to end his whaling operations immediately but the killing of fin whales has continued.  

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 decimated by commercial whaling. While such hybrids have previously been recorded by scientists, they are rare and also protected by international conventions. The trading of blue/fin hybrid whales 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 pursuing. The result is that a rare and protected species has suffered as collateral damage from a cruel, unnecessary and increasingly unpopular hunt.

“Now that the evidence has been confirmed, we once again call for an immediate and permanent end to this whaling 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.”

Mr Loftsson, CEO of Hvalur hf, announced his intention to resume killing endangered fin whales, the second largest whale species, earlier this year after a three-year hiatus. The hunt began last month with a quota of 238 whales. Loftsson’s company last killed 155 fin whales in 2015, chiefly for the Japanese market. There had been no fin whaling in Iceland since this time, after Loftsson cited difficulties in trading the meat with Japan.

Minke whaling has also been taking place in Iceland this summer with a self-allocated annual kill quota of 269 minke whales, though only a fraction of the quota is usually taken. A total of 17 minke whales were harpooned during last summer’s whaling season, compared to 46 in 2016. While fin whale meat has not traditionally been eaten by Icelanders, minke whale meat is sold within the country, though the majority of it is eaten by curious tourists.

There is also little appetite for whale meat among Icelanders with recent Gallup polling commissioned by IFAW showing only 1% of Icelanders claim to eat whale meat regularly and 81% have never eaten it. Polling also revealed that Icelandic support for fin whaling has significantly reduced, with 35.4% now declaring they are in favour of fin whaling, compared to 42% in 2016. Just four years ago, similar polling found 56.9% in favour of fin whaling, around 20% higher.*

In conjunction with Icelandic whale watching coalition Icewhale, IFAW works to educate tourists about the realities of whaling and whale meat through its ‘Meet Us Don’t Eat Us’ campaign. The percentage of tourists who claimed to have tasted whale meat in Iceland was 40% according to research carried out in 2009. Since the launch of Meet Us Don’t Eat Us in 2011 this figure has been drastically reduced, with IFAW surveys revealing 11.4% of tourists in Iceland had sampled whale meat in 2017.

Masson added: “IFAW has worked alongside Icelanders for many years to promote responsible whale watching, rather than whale killing. This is better for whales, Iceland’s tourism industry and its international reputation.”

Whale watching is one of the top tourist attractions in Iceland, generating around £20 million annually. More than 350,000 people go whale watching each year in Iceland, proving that whales are worth far more to the Icelandic economy alive than dead.

More than half of restaurants in downtown Reykjavik have signed up to be ‘Whale Friendly’ with a pledge not to serve whale meat, and less than 10% of restaurants in this area have whale meat on their menus.

To support IFAW’s efforts to protect whales in Iceland or find out more about Meet Us Don’t Eat Us visit www.ifaw.is.

Renewed calls to end commercial whaling as genetic testing confirms whale harpooned in Iceland was rare hybrid

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