Iceland pledges inquest after blue whale scandal

Blue whales can reach 200 tonnes in weight and are the largest animals to ever inhabit the earth. [Shutterstock]

Icelandic Prime Minister Katrín Jakobsdóttir confirmed at last week’s NATO summit that her country would launch an investigation into Iceland’s controversial whaling industry, following the killing of what is thought to be a protected blue whale.

German conservation group Hard to Port said last week that commercial whaling company Hvalur hf had harpooned and killed a juvenile blue whale on the night of 7 July.

Company owner Kristjan Loftsson insisted that the animal was a fin whale or a hybrid of the two species. Iceland permits the hunting of fin whales, despite an international moratorium on whaling, but does not allow the killing of blue whales.

However, a number of experts have concluded that images of the dead whale show that it is indeed the protected species, the largest animal to ever exist on the planet. If DNA evidence confirms their suspicions, it will be the first blue whale to be harpooned in half a century.

Jakobsdóttir, speaking at last week’s NATO summit, revealed that her government would undertake a full review of the whaling industry this autumn.

International whale and cetacean experts wrote to the Icelandic government on 14 July to demand that whaling activities cease until the identity of what is dubbed ‘Whale 22’ is clarified.

The experts also drew attention to Iceland’s own whaling regulation, which prohibits the killing of bowhead whales, northern right whales, humpback whales and blue whales. It also states that offending parties will be grounded until a court rules on the case.

Jakobsdóttir and her party, the Left-Green movement, have been in power since late last year. The incumbent leader is opposed to whaling but her coalition partners are in favour of preserving the industry.

At the beginning of the 20th century, the blue whale was nearly hunted to extinction by commercial whaling and was only pulled back from the brink in 1967 when the species was granted protected status.

In 1982, a global ban on commercial whaling was implemented but Japan exercises a loophole that allows for “scientific permits”. The EU on Tuesday sealed its largest trade deal ever with the Far East nation on Tuesday (17 July).

Iceland and Norway issue their own quotas, as both object to the International Whaling Commission’s moratorium.

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