Musings, politics and environmental issues

Posts tagged ‘fin whaling’

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.

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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.

 

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.

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.

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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.

Hunting whales for iron supplements

Kristjan Loftsson, the man behind Iceland’s fin whaling activities, has announced that he and his whaling company, Hvalur, will hunt fin whales again this summer, starting around June 10. The quota for the year is 161 animals, plus 20% of the unused quota from last time.

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No whales have been caught for the last two years, ostensibly because of problems with chemical analysis of whale meat in Japan which Loftsson now puts down to the use of obsolete technology in Japan that gives conflicting results. He hopes that this will be less of a problem in the future.

This year, it seems that only part of the whale meat will be sent via a roundabout route to Japan. During the last two years, it turns out that he has been working with Innovation Centre Iceland (ICI) on the development of food supplements – yes, you read correctly – from fin whale meat, and with the University of Iceland on how to process gelatin from whale bones and blubber.

Whale meat is apparently high in haem iron, a form of iron that is only found in meat, poultry, seafood and fish and is absorbed better by the body than non-haem iron found in vegetables or the inorganic (non-haem) iron that is used in food supplements.

Meat from marine mammals in 8-10 times higher in haem iron than beef. The WHO say that over 30% of the world’s population are anaemic, many due to iron deficiency. This is particularly true for developing countries, children and women of child-bearing age. Loftsson clearly hopes he is doing the world a great favour by killing whales and producing iron supplements. Hmm. I don’t think it’s that easy. Absorption of non-haem iron can be increased by consuming vitamin C at the same time.

Loftosson and ICI are mapping the concentration of haem iron as well as  that of vitamins, minerals, fats, proteins and trace elements in fin whale meat. They are also studying ways to handle the meat with a view to storage, transport and intake. It is assumed that the meat will be stored frozen but will be dried and finely ground before use in food supplements.

 

Whales do not always die immediately when harpooned

Last year, two Norwegian experts came to Iceland and spent time on the Hvalur fin whaling boat, checking to see whether the whales died instantly and if not, measuring how long it took them to die. They found that out of the 50 whales they researched, 42 died instantly but the others lived for up to 15 minutes. Those that did not die instantly were shot again. If it’s any consolation, apparently the situation is worse in Norway, i.e. a higher proportion of whales do not die instantly. Here is the new report in English.

The researchers were going to record the time taken for minke whales to die, but they could not do this as no minke whaling was happening while they were here. They will return this summer to do that.

More about whales: There is a brand-new video out about pilot whaling in the Faroe Islands. The video is called “The Grind: Whaling in Faroe Islands” and was made by two film producers, one American and one Canadian. It is almost half an hour long, and documents how pilot whales are killed and the Sea Shepherd campaign to save them, but also has interviews with some Faroese people who explain how it is necessary for the Faroese to kill whales as they have no agriculture to speak of and have to rely on the sea. A direct link to the film is here, or you can click on the clip at the bottom of this Icelandic report to see the whole film. . . Check it out.

By the way, pilot whales are called grindhvalur in Icelandic and it seems the name is similar in the Faroes. They call the hunt “the Grind”.