Conservationists Sue Whaling Company

Wildlife and nature conservation organization Jarðarvinir has sued whaling company Hvalur hf. for the violation of whaling laws, Vísir reports. Ragnar Aðalsteinsson, Jarðarvinir’s attorney, says he believes Hvalur hf. broke the law and violated their whaling licence by killing a hybrid whale last June. “The hunting licence is limited to fin whales. There is no exception from that in the hunting licence or anywhere else. We believe it’s worthwhile to try to determine whether it is punishable to hunt a whale though it is a hybrid, if it cannot be considered a fin whale,” Ragnar stated.

Hvalur hf. was the subject of controversy in June when it was believed they had killed a blue whale. Genetic analysis later determined the animal in question was a rare fin/blue whale hybrid. The company’s licence only applies to hunting fin whales. Though hunting of blue whales is illegal in Iceland, there is no legislation specifically protecting hybrid whales.

In the lawsuit, Jarðarvinir also asserts that Hvalur hf. has not complied with regulations governing their operations between June 2010 and May of this year. Fréttablaðið reported earlier this week that the company has never followed strict rules on whale meat processing which came into effect in 2010 but were relaxed by Minister of Fisheries Kristján Þór Júlíusson earlier this year. The regulations required the company to slaughter whales indoors and as soon as they are brought onto land, a process it did not carry out.

Ragnar also questions whether the minister of fisheries was permitted to change regulations on whale meat processing at the beginning of the summer, as such regulations are usually governed by an international regulatory framework. “It’s a question of whether there is permission anywhere to grant an exemption from those regulations by a government decision.”

Whale Hunted in Iceland May Be Rare Hybrid

Hvalur hf. whaling company has caught a whale which may be a rare hybrid. Stundin reported first. Animal rights advocacy group Hard to Port, which opposes whaling in Iceland, posted pictures of the animal on social media. The group asserts that the whale, caught on July 7, exhibited some blue whale characteristics and may therefore be a blue whale/fin whale hybrid.

Hvalur hf. recommenced whaling in June after a two-year break. The company has caught 22 whales this year, with the first 21 identified as fin whales. The 22nd whale shows different features, including colouring that differs from most fin whales.

Some experts believe the whale is not in fact a hybrid, but a blue whale. “While I can’t entirely rule out the possibility that this is a hybrid, I don’t see any characteristics that would suggest that,” Dr. Phillip Clapham of the NOAA Alaska Fisheries Science Centre told conservation organisation Sea Shepherd. “From the photos, it has all the characteristics of a blue whale; given that – notably the coloration pattern – there is almost no possibility that an experienced observer would have misidentified it as anything else at sea.”

Staff from the Marine & Freshwater Research Institute of Iceland takes biological samples and measurements of every whale hunted by Hvalur hf. Gísli Arnór Víkingsson, marine biologist and whale expert at the institute, told Morgunblaðið the organisation received word that the whale hunted may in fact be a hybrid.

“We received a report of this strange whale immediately and according to our employee it is reminiscent of a hybrid which we’ve gotten a bit of in the past which is a remarkable phenomenon. From pictures of the specimen we are nearly sure it is so, but it will not be confirmed until we do a DNA analysis in the fall,” Gísli stated. The Marine & Freshwater Research Institute normally analyses DNA samples of all hunted whales simultaneously once the season has ended. It has not been decided whether analysis of the potential hybrid’s DNA will be expedited, “but of course we will look at this one especially in the fall with respect to this point,” Gísli stated.

While blue whales are protected, the same does not apply to hybrid whales. “If this is a blue whale which is a protected species it would be a violation of the regulations of the International Whaling Commission, but if this is a hybrid there is no violation of regulations,” Gísli remarked. “Hybrids do not have special protection in and of themselves.”