Saturday 14 July 2018

Just one more example of unethical behaviour by whaling nations


International concern is being expressed about the killing of what appears to be a blue whale by Icelandic whalers.
 
Although commercial whaling for all species has been banned by the International Whaling Commission since 1986, the Government of Iceland again issued one of its whaling companies, Hvalur hf, a permit to slaughter up to 191 fin whales within its territorial waters this season. This has been controversial enough, with fin whales still being listed as “endangered” globally by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), the internationally recognised independent authority on the status of species. (See News Items 31.5.18)
 
Blue whales are in an even worse situation, having been a primary target of commercial whalers world-wide during the 20thcentury after advances in whaling technology finally enabled these largest of all whales to be taken. So greatly were their numbers depleted that they were granted complete protection by the International Whaling Commission in 1966, although records show blues were still hunted, albeit in reduced numbers for another decade.
 
The last recorded taking of a blue whale by commercial whaling occurred in 1978 – 40 years ago.
 
Now, it seems, an Icelandic whaling vessel has killed a blue whale, evidenced by images taken by environmentalists in Iceland.
 
The best excuse to come from the whaling company so far is that it might be a blue whale / fin whale hybrid. That is, the result of mating between a blue whale and a fin whale.
 
DNA samples are required to be taken of all whales taken under Icelandic Government permits. These are submitted to the Iceland Marine Institute for analysis. It is understood that sample reports are not finalised until the end of the whaling season, but it is hoped that the Iceland Government will prioritise this particular one.
 
A spokesperson for the Iceland Marine Institute is reported to have said that while blue whales have full protection, if this is shown to be a hybrid “no rules have been broken, because hybrids are not a protected species”.
 
This attempt at identifying a technical loophole (a favourite ploy of whaling nations) is ill-conceived.
 
The government permit issued to Hvalur hf. is exclusively for fin whales (Balaenoptera physalus). Whatever this whale turns out to be, it is most definitely not a fin whale. So the rules have indeed been broken.
 
To those of us who have seen both fin whales and blue whales at sea, it is unthinkable that a harpooner - after pursuing the whale and getting close enough to fire his harpoon cannon - could have mistaken the animal in the photographs for a fin whale, even if sea conditions were not ideal at the time.
 
We await with interest the results of the DNA analysis and the subsequent action that will be taken by Iceland’s Prime Minister, Ms Katrín Jakobsdóttir.
 


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