Musings, politics and environmental issues

Posts tagged ‘Gunnar Bergmann Jonsson’

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.


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.











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 whaling off to a shaky start

I don’t know why they still bother to hunt minke whales in Iceland. The whale meat is sold on the domestic market so the man behind it, Gunnar Bergmann Jónsson, doesn’t have to try and freight it overseas amidst opposition. But they have other problems.

Officially they’re allowed to hunt 224 minke whales, or even more because of unused quotas, but since 2013 the actual number caught has ranged from 24 to 46, usually at the lower end of the range. Last year they caught 46, and at the end of March Gunnar Jónsson wrote on the website (hrefna is the Icelandic word for minke whale) that the intention was to catch more this year.

However, unfavourable weather conditions have meant that hunting started later than usual and Jónsson now says that they will catch fewer whales than last year. By June 27, they’d caught 7 whales whereas last year they had caught 23 by the same time. By July 1, the number caught this year had risen to 11. This page from the Directorate of Fisheries seems to have up-to-date info on this.

There appear to be fewer minke whales around Iceland now than there were.

On a related note, the Directorate of Fisheries has held courses on the best ways of killing whales instantly. In 2014, a report by a Norwegian specialist said that 84% of fin whales died instantly, out of a sample of 50. The report is somewhat gruesome as it describes the most efficient ways of killing fin whales – which are not being hunted this year in Iceland due to Japanese bureaucracy (according to Kristján Loftsson, the man behind the killings) or worldwide opposition (according to everyone else). The research body NAMMCO want more research on the best way of killing minke whales to be carried out in 2017 – this will be done in conjunction with the minke whaling season.

Update August 1:  They’ve now caught 17 minke whales, “much less than this time last year” according to Jónsson. Good.

More problems for Icelandic minke whaling company

The only company that was hunting minke whales last year off Iceland, IP Utgerd, has been reprimanded by the Directorate of Fisheries for bypassing the weighing of the majority of the minke whales they caught last season. Out of the 24 whales they caught, 14 were not recorded. The man behind the company concerned, Gunnar Bergmann Jonsson, says that whales are recorded by number caught rather than weight, and that after years of scientific whaling the weight of minke whales should be known. They say they notify the Directorate electronically as soon as a whale is killed. Apparently the unwanted parts of a minke whale are discarded at sea, and only the meat and blubber are brought to land.

If the company bypasses the weighing machine once more within the next two years, they will have their licence retracted. Which could mean that no more minke whales would be caught.

In point of fact, IP Utgerd only utilized 10% of their quota, as they were allowed to hunt 240 whales. Consequently, they have had to import minke whale meat from Norway to supply restaurants and the like within Reykjavik.

UPDATE: Apparently, Japan had to destroy whale meat it got from Norway last year because it contained excessive levels of insecticide. No one thought of testing the Norwegian whale meat imported to Iceland for insecticide, and there is no guarantee that any remaining meat – if there is any – will be tested now.