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Archive for the ‘Whaling’ Category

Whales to be killed commercially in Japan but not Iceland

Well, as some of the workers at the whaling station in Iceland intimated last year, Kristjan Loftsson has decided not to kill fin whales this year. One excuse given was somewhat feeble – they received permission to kill whales too late and it was thus too late to organise everything – but the main reason was that they couldn’t sell the meat that they’d sent to Japan.

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The minke whalers have also decided to hunt for sea cucumbers rather than whales this year, apparently “because it suits us better”. They abandoned whaling last year early on in the season. They will import minke whale meat from Norway this year to meet customer requirements. Is anyone protesting whaling in Norway?

This is the first time in 17 years that no whaling of any kind will be happening in Iceland.

Neither Kristjan Loftsson’s company Hvalur hf. nor the minke whale outfit IP-utgerd have excluded the possibility of whaling next year.  But this year at least the whales are safe.

The decision by the two companies provides even more rationale for the fact that the report commissioned by the Icelandic government on whaling was not accurate. The authors said that both minke whaling and fin whaling should be profitable, although they acknowledged that fin whaling wasn’t profitable between and including 2014 and 2017, much of the proceeds going on wages and transport to Japan.

And the minke whalers only caught 17 and 6 minke whales in 2017 and 2018 respectively, which can hardly be profitable. Indeed, the minke whaling company has gone bust more than once.

Some whales are not safe, though. Japan started commercial whaling this morning for the first time in 31 years, with quotas for 52 minke whales, 25 sei whales and 15 Bryde’s whales – 225 whales in total. Some whales have already been caught. According to a report in Japan Times, “the quota was calculated on the basis that it would not adversely impact stocks even if Japan kept hunting the whales for 100 years”. Good grief! 100 years!!!

They intend to kill the whales in nearby waters and in their exclusive economic zone but not in the Antarctic, where they have actually killed more whales annually than are allowed now. Last year, Nanami Kurasawa from the Japanese group IKAN told me that the stopping of “research whaling” in the Antarctic and Southern Hemisphere would mean that Japan would have to give up 333 minke whales from Antarctica, 134 sei whales and 43 minke whales from the North West Pacific. Distributors were worried, she said.

Nevertheless, whale meat consumption in Japan has dropped from over 200,000 tonnes in the 1960s to around 5,000 tonnes last year.

Iceland’s fisheries minister allows whaling again

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It’s unbelievable. Iceland’s fisheries minister, Kristjan Thor Juliusson, has just signed a regulation authorizing the killing of fin whales and minke whales for the next five years. In part, the decision was based on the report on the economic, social and environmental consequences of whaling that the government commissioned the University of Iceland’s Institute of Economics to carry out. And, like the report they wrote in 2010, this one was heavily criticized. He also based his decision on advice (in Icelandic) from the whale experts from the Marine and Freshwater Research Institute, which says in part that more research using tissue samples is necessary to investigate the food they eat. Their statement mentions new research on the benefits of whales in transporting nutrients between layers, and says it has been discussed at meetings of NAMMCO and the IWC scientific committee, but is generally not considered to be as important when compared to other factors that may influence marine productivity.

They admit that the minke stock appears to be diminishing, although they think that the whales have moved north in search of food. Last season, the minke whalers stopped almost as soon as they started, after killing 10 whales as it was not economical to do so (but the Institute of Economics report did not mention that). So, even though they are permitted to kill more minke whales, it’s not at all likely that they will do so.

Apparently the Icelandic Institute of Natural History recently compiled a list of endangered wildlife in and around Iceland; neither fin whales nor minke whales are considered endangered around Iceland (they are “Least Concern”, in IUCN terms).

The Prime Minister’s party, the Left-Greens, are against whaling and the PM has said she considers that whaling is not sustainable. Julíusson holds the opposite view. He says that the matter is certainly controversial – “there are different opinions on the matter. “But this is one of the tasks that comes under my ministry and it’s up to me to take a decision, which I’ve now done,” he told the national broadcasting station. Juliusson is from the conservative Independent Party.

As yet, there has been little reaction to the decision, maybe because it was announced early evening when few people are still at work. But I’m sure there will be reactions. I’ll update as necessary.

Update: The Left-Green environment minister, Gudmundur Ingi Gudbrandsson, said that Júlíusson did not tell him about his plan to allow whaling on scientific grounds. Gudbrandsson is against whaling and is not happy with the decision.

Promised report on Iceland’s whaling activities full of holes

Last summer, Iceland’s PM Katrin Jakobsdottir promised that a review would be done of the economic, social and environmental ramifications of whaling before any decision would be made about whether to grant Kristjan Loftsson and his whaling company Hvalur permission to hunt fin whales for the next five years or so.

The University of Iceland’s Institute of Economics has now produced what presumably is the report (in Icelandic) that Jakobsdottir had promised last year. It doesn’t sound promising for those hoping that 2018 would be the last year that Iceland kills whales. It even says that it might be worthwhile to hunt other species of whales! Ye gods!

It also has a dig at whale-watching companies and says they need to be regulated to ensure that they don’t affect the behaviour of whales and deter them from feeding and such like. They also say that whaling doesn’t seem to have deterred tourists from visiting Iceland, which seems to be one of their main concerns.

Like the first report the Institute composed, there is substantial information about the effect of whales on fishing stocks, based on papers that I have already written about – but nothing on how whale faeces can lead to increased fish stocks.

They also mention minke whaling, but put the low number of minke whales killed in 2017 and 2018 (17 and 6 respectively) to bad weather conditions. That’s not true – well, not for 2018 anyway, as minke whaling stopped soon after they started, as the whalers said they weren’t sure whether it would be economically worthwhile to hunt minke whales. The extension of the protected area near Reykjavik was making life difficult for the minke whalers. In theory, they can hunt over 250 minkes per year.

Granted, the authors say that fin whaling wasn’t profitable between and including 2014 and 2017, much of the proceeds going on wages and transport to Japan.

One would presume that whaling would be inadvisable, but apparently not – according to them.

I suspect there will be ramifications from this – watch this space.

Update: It appears that no one likes this report apart from Kristjan Loftsson and (perhaps) the Fisheries Minister, Kristjan Thor Juliusson. It has been torn to pieces left, right and centre. I think a new report should be done by the environmental consultancy Environice – clearly these economists know nothing about ecology.

Update: Kristjan Thor Juliusson is being cautious, see here. He says that Iceland’s leading scientists say it’s too hard to say for sure what the ecological effect of killing whales will be on fish populations.

Commercial whaling in Japan may affect Iceland’s whaling activities

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Japan has just announced that it will leave the International Whaling Committee on 30 June 2019 and resume commercial whaling the following day in Japanese territorial waters.

This is surprising in light of the diminishing consumption of whale meat in Japan. Consumption is down to approx. 5,000 tonnes a year, down from 200,000 tonnes in the 1960s. The majority of the Japanese never or rarely eat whale meat.

The Japanese authorities have also said that they will no longer pursue whaling in the Antarctic or other southern climes, which is of course a good thing.

The Japanese decision could have an effect on whether the Icelandic government allows fin whaling to continue next year. The five-year licence to Kristjan Loftsson and his company Hvalur ran out last September and the Icelandic government has said it will commission a study into whether whaling is viable on commercial, environmental and social aspects of whaling before deciding whether to grant Loftsson a licence once more.

Japan’s decision to resume commercial whaling must surely have an effect on the commercial viability of Loftsson’s whaling as he sends all the Icelandic whale meat to Japan, via a roundabout route. If Japan is catching its own whales (which few of the Japanese will eat), it’s unlikely that they will want whale meat from Iceland as well. This might also factor into the Icelandic government’s report, as it makes no sense for Iceland to suffer the political wrath of anti-whaling countries if a market cannot be found for the meat.

In 2017, the Japanese authorities discarded Icelandic whale meat because their chemical analyses revealed that it was not fit for human consumption. Loftsson blamed the technology used, and hopes it will work out better this year. But whether it will or not is unknown – and Loftsson is unlikely to publicize a refusal by the Japanese to accept the meat.

It turns out that I’m not the only one who thinks that Japan’s decision will make it harder to sell whale meat from Iceland, as Arni Finnsson from the Iceland Nature Conservation Association has just been reported (in Icelandic) as saying something very similar.

Update: I contacted Nanami Kurasawa from the Japanese group IKAN to try and find out more about the proposed Japanese commercial whaling, Among other things, she said that the sellers of whale meat would probably NOT be opposed to more meat from Iceland as the stopping “research whaling” in the Antarctic and Southern Hemisphere would mean that Japan would have to give up 333 minke whales from the Antarctica, 134 sei whales and 43 minke whales from the North West Pacific. They are worried about a reduction in distribution.

Details of their commercial whaling are till to be announced. She also said that the Japanese government had relaxed rules on chemical analysis – which Loftsson is probably pleased about.

Anyone want an article on this issue?

Fin whaling definitely finished for the season off Iceland

I was hoping that fin whaling would end this weekend and it looks like it has. When I was at the Reykjavik Whale Save vigil on Friday night outside the whaling station, Hvalur 8 was still there, after arriving at 8 a.m. that morning – usually the boats go out again soon after bringing back their whales.IMG_0709

The other boat, Hvalur 9, returned yesterday with whales no. 135 and 136. Sea Shepherd UK have been monitoring the site constantly over the last few months, and late this afternoon they reported that the two whaling boats were docked at the whaling station, the staff had been reduced to a minimum, many have been seen carrying bags of whale meat over the last few days, and the whole area was being cleaned thoroughly. Hvalur 9 has now left the whaling station and is probably on its way back to Reykjavik.

Avaaz sent out a petition this morning, urging the Icelandic PM and Fisheries Minister not to renew the licence for next year, and a UK campaign group is also about to put out a petition with similar demands. In fact, the Foreign Ministry (Utanríkisráðuneyti) should be targeted as well, as the media turn to them when wanting to find out how much opposition there is abroad to Iceland’s whaling. Email postur@utn.stjr.is to pressurize them to stop whaling permanently.

A number of pregnant whales have been caught, and two hybrid whales. The quota was 191 whales, including 30 left over from last year’s quota when whaling didn’t take place. Recently, each boat has been bringing back two whales at a time.

Update, 18 September: Hvalur 9 has returned with two more whales. So it’s still happening.

Update, 24 September: I wrote the first part of this blog on 16 September, a bit prematurely.

The harpoons have now been removed from both boats, one today from Hvalur 9 and the other yesterday, from Hvalur 8. The final total is 146 whales, 21 of which were pregnant.

 

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.

 

That rare whale killed by Icelanders was a hybrid …

Genetic analysis of the rare whale killed by one of the Hvalur crews on July 7 showed that the whale was definitely a blue whale/fin whale hybrid (blue whale mother, fin whale father) rather than a blue whale. Some of the early coverage of the “whoops, what sort of whale is this” affair stated that it was a blue whale, and some experts in the UK concurred.  The whaling team at the Iceland’s Marine and Freshwater Research Institute (MFRI) were completely sure that it is a hybrid, and the MFRI employee present when the whale was brought in took samples and measurements, as well as reporting it to MFRI.  Kristjan Loftsson, the man responsible for Iceland’s killing of fin whales also observed the dead whale closely and concluded it was a hybrid whale when it was dragged into the whaling station.

Initially samples were going to be sent abroad for testing at the end of the season, but the MFRI decided to ask for fast service due to the severity of the matter.

Fin/blue hybrids are rare but not unknown around Iceland. For instance, one was reported to visit Skjalfandi Bay off Northeast Iceland year after year a few years ago, and a skin sample was taken to make sure. Gisli Vikingsson from MFRI told RÚV, Iceland’s state broadcasting service, that six to seven such hybrids had been seen off Iceland over the years (and been caught), and that instances of a protected being caught had been previously brought to the attention of the International Whaling Commission, who also see to the problem of hybrids on a one-by-one basis.

If there are few enough blue whales that they are considered endangered, it’s obvious that hybrids of blue/fin whales are even rarer. Probably it has not been thought necessary to focus on them specifically in the legal sense because of their rarity – but that doesn’t make it OK to kill them. In the general sense, Icelandic law says it’s illegal to kill any animal if permission has not been given (it has been in the case of fin and minke whales).

Like with fin whales, CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species) prohibits the selling of meat from hybrid whales.

So what will Loftsson do with the meat from this whale? Will it be lumped with the other fin whale meat he is trying to sell? Or will he keep it separate and eventually dispose of it because it’s in a class of its own?

Loftsson says it’s impossible to tell a fin whale from a fin whale hybrid unless it breaches out of the water. If it’s impossible to tell the difference, it is even more reason to stop all whaling.

Iceland’s PM, Katrin Jakobsdottir, was confronted by many reporters at the NATO meeting which she was attending in Brussels, at the time when news of the “whoops, what sort of whale is this” affair was at its peak. She must have been made acutely aware of the attitudes of other countries towards Iceland’s whaling. Her party is against it, and she has said that a committee is looking into the economic, environmental and social consequences of whaling. A decision will be made at the end of the season.

Maybe the death of this particular whale will make a difference.

It looks like minke whaling is on the way out, though. After getting only 17 whales last year, whaler Gunnar Bergmann Jonsson says he’ll be satisfied with getting 10 this year as their main hunting area is closed to them.

Update: Another hybrid whale has  been killed (on August 24), again a male blue whale/fin whale hybrid. It was whale no. 98.