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Archive for the ‘whaling boats’ Category

Neither fin whales nor minke whales to be killed off Iceland this summer

Last week, it was reported that once again Iceland would not be hunting fin whales this year. Kristjan Loftsson, the man behind the killing, gave several reasons for his decision.


One reason is that since Japan started to allow commercial whaling in 2018 rather than “research whaling”, the Japanese government now subsidizes Japanese whaling ships, which makes it difficult for Loftsson to compete commercially (plus of course he has to get the whale meat to Japan via a circuitous route as so few ports are willing to allow him in).

Loftsson also says that the Japanese have stricter requirements for chemical analysis for Icelandic whale meat than for their own whale meat.

But he also sees potential problems when processing the meat due to COVID-19. He says that the work involves staff working near each other. If one of his employees becomes infected with the coronavirus, all the others will have to go into quarantine for two weeks, which means it will be impossible to cut up the dead whales, etc. He actually has faced legal action for carrying out whale processing in the open air, but has wangled his way out of it.

Although he will not be killing more whales this year, Loftsson still intends to carry on with the university-based research on making gelatin out of whale bones, an iron-rich supplement for people suffering from anaemia, and using whale blubber for medicinal purposes and food production.

On 2018, 146 fin whales and 6 minke whales were killed off Iceland.

The minke whalers basically gave up in 2018, as  their main hunting grounds near Reykjavik had become a whaling sanctuary. That year, they stopped soon after they started.

Gunnar Bergmann Jonsson, who runs the company IP-útgerð that ran the minke-whaling operation, said this week that he does not envisage doing any more minke whaling.

Ironically, a report was produced last year by Iceland’s Institute of Economic Studies which concluded that whaling in Iceland would be profitable. That report was, however, subject to heavy criticism for the assumptions made.


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


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 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.











First fin whales killed off Iceland

Kristjan Loftsson, the man behind Iceland’s fin-whale hunts, originally said that his two whaling boats, Hvalur 8 and 9, would head off to sea around June 10, so a protest was organized that day in front of Hvalur 8, which was still moored in the Reykjavik harbour opposite the whale-watching boats. But nothing happened that day, and Loftsson said that there would be a delay before the boats went out.

Hvalur 9 is still in the slip, but Hvalur 8 sneaked out of the harbour on Wednesday night with its GPS device switched off so the boat could not be traced using the Marine Traffic app. They returned late on Thursday night with the first whale, then went out again and returned with the second whale early this morning. They are allowed to catch 161 whales this season, plus some of the unused quota from last year, totalling 190. The hunting season is around 100 days so I doubt they’ll catch all of them.


A page has been set up on Facebook called Stop Whaling in Iceland to publicize protests.

Other than watching when the boats go in and out of the whaling station at Hvalfjordur, it is nigh impossible to keep track of how many whales have been killed as Hvalur hf, the company behind the whaling operations, does not have a website and although the first whale killing is usually reported, this does not always happen. The same goes for the minke-whale killing operation: they used to have a website which was updated every so often with “another two whales have been killed” and the like, but their webpage no longer exists, so it will be very difficult to keep track of whales killed by them. Jon Gunnarsson, the father of the man behind the minke whale killings, is a member of the Althing (Icelandic parliament) for the Independent Party, and Throstur Sigmundsson, the husband of Progressive Party MP Silja Dögg Gudmundsdottir, carried  out minke whaling in 2016 when the boat he bought came with a minke whale quota, so there are strong minke whaling interests within the Icelandic Althing.

There is an article about Kristjan Loftsson in the latest issue of the newspaper Stundin. As always, Loftsson could not be contacted, but it was interesting all the same. Loftsson is no longer connected to the fishing giant HB Grandi so cannot use profits from there to subsidize whaling operations.

The Icelandic government appears split on this issue, and has requested a report from the Institute of Economics on the economic ramifications of fin whaling and its effects on industry and another report from the Marine and Freshwater Research Institute on the food needs of whales and their importance in the marine biota off Iceland.

I have no faith in either of these, see the article I wrote a number of years ago which criticizes a previous report by the Institute of Economics, partly for its assumptions that whales kill fish that could be caught for eating. Another article I wrote last year describes the importance of whale faeces for fish populations.

Information on the social impact of whaling has also been requested.

Opposition to whaling mounts in Iceland

The first fin whaling boats were expected to leave Reykjavik harbour today, but for undisclosed reasons their departure has been delayed a week. That didn’t stop a demonstration from happening in front of one of the whaling boats at Reykjavik harbour at lunchtime today. The demonstration, organized at short notice by the Icelandic Vegan & Vegetarian Society (Samtökin grænmetisæta), Vegan Organization (Vegan samtökin), Earth Friends (Jarðarvinur) and Hard to Port, a German activist group, was well attended, with about 40-50 people. Hard to Port will arrive in Iceland in a few days time and will stay all summer, so more demonstrations can be expected. No doubt there will also be a demonstration at the whaling station in Hvalfjordur when the first fin whale is brought back to land.

A possible reason for the delay is that one of the two whaling boats owned by the fin whaling company Hvalur is currently on a nearby slipway. The man behind the fin whaling, Kristjan Loftsson, usually has two boats out at a time.

Although fin whales are being spared at the moment, the same is not true for minke whales as the man behind that enterprise, Gunnar Bergmann Jonsson from IP útgerð, announced last week that their boat Hrafnreyður would start minke whaling last Thursday.  Given that they only caught 17 whales last year, out of a quota of over 200, Jonsson says he’s not sure if the venture is going to pay. I’m sure it won’t.

In a survey on attitudes to whaling carried out by MMR in late April/early May, 34% said they were very opposed or fairly opposed to whaling starting again (fin whaling did not happen in 2016 or 2017), 34% were pro-whaling and 31% said they were neither opposed or supportive of it.  Obviously opinions are very divided, yet opposition is growing as a 2007 survey carried out by Capacent for the Iceland Nature Conservation Association and IFAW in early October, 2007, disclosed that 66.3% agreed with the decision of the outgoing Fisheries Minister of the time, Einar K. Gudfinsson, to allow fin whaling to recommence, 22.6% said they were against it, and only 11.1% said they were neutral about it.

Update, 11 June: The first minke whale has been caught.

Update, 24 July: Minke whaling has stopped. They’ve given up, having caught 6 whales. See this article I wrote for more about opposition to whaling.

Minke whales still being hunted

Although Kristjan Loftsson from Hvalur announced in late February that fin whales will not be hunted off Iceland this summer (he was the person responsible for this), the smaller minke whales are still being hunted, albeit in small numbers as it’s difficult to find them near Reykjavik where the minke whaling company is based. The first minke whale for the season has now been caught.

The minke whalers use the same bay for catching whales as the whale watchers use, though in theory the whalers must not enter the protected area which the whale watching boats use. Whale watching has become immensely popular, and latest estimates say that the number of tourists going whale-watching this year will exceed the total population of Iceland (about 330,000). Whale-watching is obviously more viable than minke whale hunting, as well as providing more jobs and more government revenue.

The whale-watching companies are pressing for their area to be expanded, but the minke whalers object to this. Given that only 29 minke whales were caught last year, I feel the interests of the whale-watching companies greatly outnumber those of the minke whalers (which now are only represented by one company).


Fin whaling in Iceland is loss-making

The Icelandic fin-whaling company Hvalur hf. made a loss on its fin-whaling activities last year, according to annual accounts for the company. The company’s annual accounts show that it sold whale meat for ISK 1.055 million in 2014 but the expense of running the whaling ships and export-related expenses (presumably the shipment of whale meat to Japan on the freight ship Alma) amounted to ISK 2.011 million. The value of stock changes of whale produce was recorded as ISK 822 million, and thus the estimated loss of fin whaling was at least ISK 73 million.

Frozen supplies of whale meat were estimated as ISK 2.6 billion in September 2014.

Overall, though, Hvalur hf. recorded a profit of ISK 3 billion, mostly due to activities of its subsidiary Vogun hf. which owns a large part of the fishing companies HB Grandi and Hampiðjan.

The financial situation is not likely to improve this year either, with the ship Winter Bay being moored in Tromsö for 6 weeks. Also, Icelandic fish companies are extremely concerned at the moment because Russia is seriously considering banning the importation of Icelandic goods – most of which consist of fish – because of Iceland’s support for economic sanctions against Russia because of its role in the Ukraine crisis. Initially Russia banned imports from the EU and certain other countries but now it is considering extending the ban to Iceland. When US anti-whaling groups were encouraging boycotts of fish coming from Iceland due to Iceland’s whale-hunting activities, Icelandic fishery companies were not particularly worried because most of Iceland’s fish goes to Russia. Exports to Russia have increased almost five-fold since 2008. But now they’re really worried….

If Hvalur cannot depend on fishing profits from HB Grandi to keep it afloat, it will be in deep trouble.

UPDATE: Russia implemented the ban yesterday, August 13. And fishing concerns are extremely angry….