Musings, politics and environmental issues

Archive for the ‘Animal welfare’ Category

Pregnant fin whale caught by Icelandic whaling ship

One of the Hvalur whaling ships brought back a pregnant fin whale yesterday afternoon to the company’s whaling station in Hvalfjordur, Iceland. Outrageous – well, the whole whaling escapade is outrageous but this is even more so.

The first vigil of the newly formed Reykjavik Whale Save group took place last night outside the whaling station, so I took the opportunity to go there. They were still working, though I only got there at 9 p.m. The stench was unbearable at times – some of the 17 protestors were holding a scarf over their noses – and there was music blaring out from the whaling station, which was bizarre. Sea Shepherd UK protestors, who have been keeping up a constant vigil outside the plant, said that they always heard music from the plant.

Dani Rukin from the Save movement was at the vigil. She explained that the whale chapter in Iceland was the first Save group to concentrate on whales, as most of the groups vigil outside slaughterhouses and the like.

One of the workers later came to talk to the protestors, which is very unusual if not a first.

Frettabladid, one of the Icelandic newspapers, had a photo of the dead calf taken by a Hard to Port activist on their front page this morning and followed it up with a report on an inside page. The report said that it was not uncommon for pregnant whales to be killed, according to whaling specialist Gisli Vikingsson from the Marine Research Institute. It also quoted Hallgerdur Hauksdottir, the chair of Iceland’s animal welfare organization, who pointed out that it was illegal to shoot pregnant reindeer. The article also said that a report carried out for the Directorate of Fisheries by researchers from Norway on board one of Iceland’s whaling boats, on the length of time it takes for a whale to die, had been kept secret by the then-Fisheries Minister, Sigurdur Ingi Johannsson. But that isn’t entirely true, as I published the URL in a blog I wrote in 2015. Here is an excerpt from the report: Instantaneous death was recorded for 42 whales (84 %)The whales not instantly killed (8) were reshot with penthrite grenade. The median survival time for those whales was 8 minutes with the shortest survival time of 6.5 minutes and the longest survival time of 15 minutes.

Another protest group, Jardarvinir, pressed charges last week against Hvalur hf. over its killing of the hybrid whale.

One of the protestors last night said that the whaling station would be an interesting place to visit as a museum. Let’s hope this happens in the near future.  I still think that when when the Hvalur 5-year licence runs out in September, it will not get renewed. For a start, there has been far too much unwelcome publicity and opposition this

Update: It turns out that this was not the first pregnant whale caught this season, as at least 6 others have been caught, one of which was caught yesterday (August 24). That boat also brought back what is considered to be another hybrid whale, though this will only be confirmed next week.


Fin whale testicles in Icelandic beer

Yes, you read correctly. The Icelandic micro-brewery Steðji, which this time last year brewed a special beer containing fin whale meal for the traditional Thorrablot celebrations that start in late January, have this time started to use one fin whale testicle in each brew of the special beer called Hval 2 (Whale 2) for this year’s Thorrablot celebrations.

Last year the West Iceland public health authority banned the beer last year as the whale meal contained innards and parts of the intestine. A few days later the fisheries, agriculture and “environment” minister, Sigurdur Ingi Johannsson, overturned the ban. The beer quickly sold out. A few months later, the Ministry of Industry and Innovation confirmed the decision of the public health authority to ban the beer containing whale meal.

Not to be deterred, the brewery decided to develop a new whale beer as it had received many requests to do so. The result was the testicle beer. The public health authority cannot take action this time as they say that fin whale testicles (and fat) are appraised by Iceland’s Food and Veterinary Authority. Thus they do not comprise a health risk.

Nevertheless, it’s thoroughly disgusting.

Farming newspapers carry a wealth of environmental information

Don’t discount the farming newspapers for information on environmental matters. The Icelandic farming paper, Baendabladid, usually comes out fortnightly and carries a wealth of information. Besides information on topics such as equestrian tournaments, haymaking and sheep farming, the current issue covers GMOs in livestock feed; withdrawal of organic certification of an Icelandic company because they continue to use mushroom compost; disappointment of local farmers to the placement of a potential hydropower site (Hvammur) in the Thjorsa river in the utiilisation rather than pending category of the Master Plan for utilisation of hydro and geothermal power stations; how whaling for no reason is spoiling Iceland’s image (Icelandic lamb is no longer advertised in the US Whole Foods chain of shops); killing of dolphins by tuna fishing boats; forest fires in oil palm plantations in Indonesia due to farmers burning forests to provide agricultural land – the fires also create bad air pollution; how investors and multinationals who buy up large tracts of agricultural land and get others to manage the properties for them are likely to use eco-unfriendly methods, which can also be detrimental to the health of the farmhands; eco-tourism; use of wild angelica (Angelica sylvestris) for treatment of prostate cancer; the need for an alternative way of thinking to stop the spread of cow parsley (Queen Anne’s lace) in North Iceland, WITHOUT using the herbicides Roundup or Clinic; and the possibility that hydrogen sulphide in the air in Iceland could be causing a high incidence of inflammation of the eyelids (blepharitis) and dry eye. Some of this information is covered elsewhere too in the Icelandic press, but much of it is not. Animal welfare issues are also covered.

The paper frequently covers energy-related topics as well, such as farmers who utilise their local area for energy, as well as farmers who revegetate barren areas. Some of the information is translated from foreign media, so the Icelandic newspaper is obviously not alone in its coverage of environmental matters.

Baendabladid is free and widely available. For those living elsewhere, a visit to the local library may be in order.


Iceland’s whaling under pressure again

Once again, Iceland’s whaling activities have made it the focus of anti-whaling activists. Last month, a number of environmental and animal welfare groups calling themselves Whales Need Us highlighted the links between fishing company HB Grandi and its subsidiaries with the whaling company Hvalur, run by Kristjan Loftsson who is also one of the owners of HB Grandi and Chair of the HB Grandi Board of Governors. Subsequently, some companies decided to stop buying fish from HB Grandi or from wholesalers who buy fish from that company.

The campaign also asked Barack Obama to make use of the Pelly Amendment because Iceland’s sale of fin whale products outside of Iceland (they are not sold within Iceland) contravenes the international CITES agreement. Last week, Obama stated that he WOULD invoke the Pelly Amendment and outlined eight measures to be taken. Although these measures are diplomatic rather than trade sanctions, one of them involves compiling a report in six month’s time on the effectiveness of the measures taken.

Coincidentally, a group of eight Opposition MPs in Iceland have put forth a parliamentary proposal to compile a report into the economic and trade consequences of hunting both fin whales and minke whales.

I have written an article about this topic for Inter Press Service, but at the time of writing it hasn’t yet appeared. Update: It’s just appeared, April 14, here.

Meanwhile, after Japan lost the court case about “scientific” whaling in the Southern Ocean off Australia, animal rights group Sea Shepherd Conservation Society said they would probably turn their attention to other whaling countries – Norway, Iceland and the Faroe Islands.

And Hvalur has just sent 2,000 tonnes of frozen whale meat directly to Japan on the freight ship Alma, after having been banned last year from entering European ports. Earlier this year, Hvalur surreptitiously tried sending its whale meat to a Canadian port, Halifax, then sending it by train to Vancouver on the other side of the country and sending it on to Japan from there. This worked, but consequently caused an uproar in Canada so will not be tried again.

As a journalist, I can say that getting information from Hvalur staff is virtually impossible, and any information obtained is likely to be in the form of one-word answers. The company is obviously getting more and more paranoid, as they have now removed their phone numbers from the Internet listing of Icelandic phone numbers, so now the only information that appears is the whaling station address in Hvalfjordur. Luckily for me, their phone numbers still exist in the printed telephone directory (and I have copied them to my address book).



Cuts likely to target animal welfare as well as the environment

If the Icelandic government gets its way, it looks like animal welfare will suffer as well as the environment. Despite preparing legislation on measures for helping home-owners with their home loans before proposals have even been formulated on how to do this, the group assigned by the government to find out how to cut down on government expenses has suggested reviewing costs associated with the implementation of the animal welfare Act that was passed earlier this year and is supposed to be implemented at the beginning of next year.  Now, what that means exactly isn’t entirely clear, but I suspect it means that parts of the Act will be amended, e.g. there won’t be as much monitoring – which is something this government wants to reduce as much as possible.

They have already said that they want to review the act on nature conservation, which covers issues such as off-road driving, and now they want to review the operations of the Icelandic Institute of Natural History to see whether its operations can be assimilated into (under-funded) universities and regional wildlife/natural history centres. Ironically, the EU said that Iceland should do more to map and research the Icelandic flora, fauna and such like – something that would normally be done by the IINH which the government would like to get rid of, it seems. They also want to assimilate the research station at Lake Myvatn, where I once worked, into either a university or one of the regional wildlife/natural history centres. I’m not happy about that either, as it’s a centre where both international researchers and Icelandic scientists can stay and study the ecosystem of the lake.

It’s possible some of the group’s 111 proposals will be modified by the ministries or later (hopefully) by other Althingi members. But I doubt that many proposals will be modified.