credit_arne_feuerhahn

11 Jul Icelandic whalers kill blue whale by ‘mistake’?

Off the coast of a country renowned for some of the world’s most spectacular whale watching, an endangered blue whale (or possible blue/fin whale hybrid) has been slaughtered by Icelandic whalers.  According to the IUCN Red List, no blue whales have been recorded deliberately caught since 1978. The statement released by the whaling company called this act an “accident”, however to have a professional in any organization make such a large mistake like this seems unlikely.

The sickening sight of this rare and protected animal lying dead in this Icelandic port first caught the attention of Arne Feuerhahn, CEO of Hard to Port, who released the images on Facebook. This is the 22nd whale to have been killed in Icelandic waters this year by whaling company Hvalur hf, run by CEO Kristján Loftsson.

Blue whales are listed as an endangered species by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List after they have suffered devastating declines due to being hunted and killed during the 20th century. According to the IUCN, historical whaling has been the primary cause of blue whale populations being reduced by as much as 90%.

The North Atlantic population of Blue whales now sits at approximately 1500 to 2000 individuals, a fraction of their pre-whaling numbers. In order for this population to recover it is critical that every single blue whale receives protection, which is why this news is so devastating to the international marine conservation community.

A blue whale surfaces in the waters of the Azores © Miranda van der Linde | Whale Watch Azores Futurismo
A blue whale surfaces in the waters of the Azores © Miranda van der Linde | Whale Watch Azores Futurismo

Dylan Walker CEO of the World Cetacean Alliance, the world’s largest marine conservation partnership, said, “how can it be that a country that will be hosting the world’s first ever whale sanctuary as well as having some of the best whale watching on earth is still practicing the hunting and killing of these iconic animals?” 

Rannveig Grétarsdóttir, owner of WCA Partner Elding and Chair of Ice Whale, Iceland’s whale watch association, said, “I’m mostly feeling sad and embarrassed as an Icelander if this is true. I would think that the whalers should be expert in distinguishing blue whales from fin whales or any other whale. I hope that if this is true, and it is indeed a blue whale, that the Icelandic government will deal this in a appropriate way to prevent this ever happening again.”

Time and again the economic value of live whales have proven to far exceed their value dead. As a $2 billion a year industry, whale watching is a prime example of this. Tragically, this one blue whale, had it been allowed to live, could have inspired and educated thousands of tourists from Iceland, to the Azores, eastern Canada, Svalbard, Greenland and beyond. We can only hope that it’s death was not in vain and the global awareness and condemnation of this tragic “mistake” will finally bring an end to whaling in Iceland.

 

 

Iceland – a country of contrasts:

 

The Convention for the Protection of the Marine Environment of the North-East Atlantic (OSPAR) prescribes commitments towards the restoration of the ecological integrity of the North-East Atlantic and, especially, the conservation of marine ecosystems (Article 2(1)) all of which lends towards the conservation of cetaceans. As a contracting partner to the OPSAR convention, Iceland have made strides to protect its marine ecosystems and yet are allowing the killing of some of the oceans most precious resources. Iceland has committed to help halt the loss of biodiversity by 2020 as set by the OSPAR Commision but also permits these companies to continue whaling.

Iceland has also made huge steps in ending cetacean captivity as they are set to open the world’s first whale sanctuary. A project developed by the Sea Life Trust but supported by the Icelandic government will be taking 2 beluga whales, who are currently being kept in a very small concrete tank in Shanghai, will soon be transported and allowed a much freer lifestyle. The idea that one government can be in favour of such wonderful cetacean conservation efforts and still allow the killing of highly vulnerable species, and now “accidentally” killing an endangered blue whale is perplexing.

Proposed sea sanctuary site in Iceland © Sea Life Trust
Proposed sea sanctuary site in Iceland © Sea Life Trust
© Miranda van der Linde | Azores Whale Watching Futurismo
© Miranda van der Linde | Azores Whale Watching Futurismo

Blue whale protected status:

 

  • protected by the International Whaling Commission under the International Convention for the Regulation of Whaling since 1966.

 

  • Protected under appendix 1 of the Convention for International Trade of Endangered Species since 1975.

 

  • The US Endangered Species Act (ESA) in 1973; The purpose of the ESA is to protect and recover imperiled species and the ecosystems upon which they depend. It is administered by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) and the Commerce Department’s National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS).

 

  • The Australian Government have the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (EPBC Act) where the blue whale is listed as endangered. In 2005, the Australian Government also released the first joint recovery plan for blue, fin and sei whales under section 279(2) of the EPBC Act.

 

  • The EU have the Habitats and Species Directive adopted in 1992. As well as the Marine Strategy. Framework Directive (MSFD), adopted in 2008. Both of which provide a series of overarching policies to address the degraded state of EU sea areas, which also has significant implications for cetaceans.

References:

http://www.iucnredlist.org/

O’Connor, S., Campbell, R., Cortez, H., & Knowles, T., 2009, Whale Watching Worldwide: tourism numbers, expenditures and expanding economic benefits, a special report from the International Fund for Animal Welfare, Yarmouth MA, USA, prepared by Economists at Large.

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