Did Icelandic whalers just kill an endangered blue whale? The company claims that the creature they killed was a hybrid whale, but anti-whaling groups and experts disagree.
Whale 22 In Icelandic Waters
In early July, anti-whaling groups revealed photos that appear to show a massive blue whale that had just been killed by an Icelandic whaling company. The photos show the whale, with features strikingly similar to that of a blue whale, as the 22nd catch of whaling company Hvalur hf for the season.
The catch is supposedly part of the fin whale hunt, which was resumed just last June 22, after a two-year break. This led to an immediate outcry, as blue whales are an endangered and protected species, thereby making them illegal to kill.
Blue Whale Or Hybrid Whale?
In response to the outcry over the whale’s death, Hvalur hf CEO Kristjan Loftsson stated that the whale in question was not an endangered blue whale, but was a hybrid blue/fin whale. He further states that the company has not touched a blue whale since they were protected, and that blue whales are so distinct that they always leave them alone. If it was a blue whale that was killed, he says it was purely accidental.
Some conservationists and experts, however, point out that the features of whale 22 are more similar to that of a blue whale than of a hybrid whale. Specifically, the animal’s size, dorsal and pectoral fins, coloration, and lack of the white lip characteristic of a fin whale suggest that the creature that was killed was more likely a blue whale.
The Icelandic government is also taking the matter seriously, and authorities are currently conducting genetic testing to see exactly what whale species was killed.
Whaling In Iceland
Some question why whaling is continued in the country anyway, regardless of whale 22’s true species, and even with strong international resistance. In the case of whale 22, some have described the killing as possibly accidental, pointing out the dangers of the continuing industry in Iceland wherein even the protected animals can be killed.
This season alone, experts estimate that over 200 whales will likely be killed, defying the international ban on commercial whaling.
Blue whales are the largest creatures on the planet, and can be found in every ocean except the Arctic. In 1965, blue whales were considered to be very rare and decreasing in numbers, and by 1986, they were already considered an endangered species.
The main cause of the population decline among blue whales is commercial whaling, which started in the North Atlantic in 1868, but increasing human activity in the oceans also contribute to this decline. Such disturbances and hazards include vessel strikes, net entanglement, and even ship noise.
The International Whaling Commission placed blue whales under protection in 1966, and set a zero catch limit for the creatures by 1986. This, however, does not cover Norway, Iceland, and the Russian Federation, as they have objected to the provisions.