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Animals

DNA study confirms Icelandic whalers didn't kill a protected blue whale

By Staff

  • The animal Based on photographs some commentators speculated the animal could be an endangered blue whale. Photo/Hard to Port, Facebook

DNA analysis carried out by the Icelandic Marine and Freshwater Research Institute has confirmed that a whale killed by the whaling company Hvalur hf on July 7 was a hybrid fin/blue whale. Animal rights activists as well as local experts and marine biologists had identified the whale, which carried some of the characteristics of a blue whale, as a rare hybrid. Meanwhile CNN and several other international news organizations speculated that the whale was an endangered blue whale.

While it is illegal to kill blue whales in Iceland blue/fin whale hybrids do not enjoy special protection. Hybrid whales are infertile and cannot procreate.

Read more: Scientists dispute claims by CNN that Icelandic whalers killed a protected blue whale

Scientists take samples from all whales caught by Hvalur hf. The samples are then analyzed at the end of the whaling season. The local news site Vísir reports that the DNA analysis of the animal was prioritized due to the intense controversy sparked by speculation the company had broken the law and killed an endangered animal.

Animal rights activists monitoring the activities of Hvalur hf reported the hybrid whale on July 10, sparking an intense controversy and speculation. Based on photographs taken by the activists a marine biologist at the University of Hawaii reached the conclusion that the whale looked like a blue whale. 

The possibility that an endangered blue whale had been caught intensified debate in Iceland about the future of whaling in the country. The current law on whaling, passed in 2013, will expire at the end of this year. The Prime Minister of Iceland, Katrín Jakobsdóttir, has said that she believes the law should not be renewed and that a thorough study of the ecological and economic impact of whaling should be undertaken before a decision is reached. A rapidly shrinking minority of Icelanders supports the practice. The economic significance of whaling is miniscule, while it is widely recognized by Icelanders that it damages the international reputation of Iceland.

Read more: Support for whaling continues to drop: Only 34% of Icelanders now in support

The whaling company Hvalur hf. has the right, according to Icelandic law, to hunt 161 fin whales this year. The hybrid caught on July 7 was the 22nd whale killed by the company this year. The meat from the catch is exported to Japan.

 

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Animals

Great whales to be hunted in Iceland in the summer of 2018 for first time since 2015

By Staff

  • Cutting up the catch A fin whale being cut apart at the Hvalfjörður whaling station. Photo/Vilhelm

The whaling firm Hvalur hf has announced it plans to send its boats out to sea on June 10 to hunt for fin whales. Due to the limited market for whale products no great whales have been hunted in Iceland since the summer of 2015. Hvalur hf has exported its products to Japan.

Raw material for food supplements
Kristján Loftsson, the owner of Hvalur hf., told the local newspaper Morgunblaðið that Hvalur has been searching for new markets for whale products. Among the things the company is looking into is using whale meat to manufacture food additives for human consumption. Other products, including the bones and blubber could be used for various raw materials for the food industry.

Read more: Only terrorist attack on Iceland: The sinking of whaling vessels in Reykjavík on 9/11 1986

Marine biologists with the Icelandic Marine & Freshwater Research Institute have determined that 161 fin whales can be shot in 2018 without a negative impact on their population in Icelandic waters. No fin whales were caught in 2016 and 2017. In 2015, the last year when fin whales were caught in Icelandic waters 155 animals were killed.

Read more: Whaler baffled by the internet, dismisses an on-line petition with million signatures

Kristján is one of the wealthiest men in Iceland. He is the largest shareholder in one of Iceland's largest fishing firms, Grandi hf. In addition to managing a number of investment companies Kristján is also the primary shareholder in Hampiðjan, a manufacturer of fishing gear. 

 

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General

Fascinating aerial video of the two Icelandic whaling boats sunk by Sea Shepherd in 1986

By Staff

  • On dry land The two boats, Hvalur 6 and Hvalur 7 have not gone on one whale hunt since they were sunk by members of Sea Shepheard in 1986. 30 years later they are resting on dry land in Hvalfjörður fjord, North of Reykjavík. Photo/Screenshot from video, see below.

In 1986 two activists from the radical environmental group Sea Shepherd flew to Iceland to carry out the only action which has been characterized by Icelandic politicians as a successful terrorists act in Iceland. The action was carried out in protest of Iceland‘s defiance of the moratorium on whaling which had been implemented by the International Whaling Commission in January of 1986.

On the evening of November 8 the two activists broke into the whale processing station of Hvalur hf in Hvalfjörður fjord, north of Reykjavík vandalizing machinery, computers and power generators, leaving the factory inoperable. Shortly after midnight on November 9 they snuck into two of the whaling boats of Hvalur hf in the old harbour in downtown Reykjavík, opening their cooling valves, causing the ships to sink.

The two boats, Hvalur 6 and Hvalur 7 were raised from the bottom of the harbour, but were never used for whale hunting again. For several years the two boats have been resting on dry land in Hvalfjörður, just east of the whale processing plant.

The video, shot by Jaromir Stanczyk shows where the boats are marooned in the beach, a resting place where they are likely to remain until they are towed away to be torn down for scrap metal  - or perhaps sold to find some other use than whaling.

As the video shows the boats are not easily accessible, and there is no way of getting onto the boats. The can, however, be seen from the nearby cliff which is only a few minutes’ walk from the road.

 

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Economy

Hvalur hf ceases whale hunting: "Great news for Iceland, whales, and animal welfare"

  • A whale hunting ship Sigursteinn Másson, spokesperson for International Fund for Animal Welfare, says the decision will benefit the Icelandic seafood industry as a whole. Photo/Pjetur

“This is great news for Iceland, whales, and animal welfare,” says Sigursteinn Másson, spokesperson for International Fund for Animal Welfare, about Hvalur’s decision to not hunt endangered fin whales this summer or in the foreseeable future.

As reported, Hvalur hf, Iceland’s only whaling company has faced great difficulty selling fin whale meat in recent years and the company has been operated at a loss in past years.

Read moreNo fin whales will be caught this summer due to difficulties selling whale products in Japan

Kristján Loftsson, the CEO of Hvalur hf, claims that the company will cease operations completely if Japanese authorities do not slacken regulations and adapt a more modern method of operation. Japan is the only remaining market for fin whale.

“It was likely a difficult decision for Kristján Loftsson to make. But I’m sure the decision will benefit the Icelandic seafood industry as a whole and Iceland itself,” Sigursteinn told Vísir.

Local whale watching companies are likely to rejoice, as they have long maintained that whale-hunting and whale watching simply cannot coexist in Iceland. 

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Business

No fin whales will be caught this summer due to difficulties selling whale products in Japan

By Staff

  • Heading back to harbour One of whaling company Hvalur's vessels. The whaling boats will stay in harbour this summer. Photo/Vilhelm Gunnarsson

No fin whales will be caught this summer due to “difficult market conditions” in Japan. The primary reason for the decision to stop whaling, according to the local newspaper Morgunblaðið, is that Hvalur, the only whaling company which has caught fin whales in Iceland, has faced what the company describes as excessively onerous challenges in introducing the meat to the Japanese market.

Read more: New poll: A huge majority of Icelanders don’t buy whale meat

Japan is the only remaining market for fin whale products. However, whale meat consumption has dropped in Japan in recent years. At the same time the government maintains extremely time consuming methods of testing imported whale products, resulting in excessive red tape, according to Kristján Loftsson, the primary owner and director of whaling firm Hvalur hf and most outspoken advocate of whaling in Iceland.

Hvalur is the only company that hunts fin whales in Iceland. In 2015 the company caught 155 fin whales. The local news site visir.is quotes Kristján Loftsson as saying his firm would never have re-entered the whaling industry in 2009 after a 20 year hiatus, had they realized how difficult it would be to sell the products in Japan.

In recent years the company has also faced significant challenges transporting the meat to Japan. In 2014 a cargo vessel chartered by Hvalur was refused permission to dock along the way, resulting in the company opting to send its products through the arctic via the North-East passage in 2015. A petition urging the island nation of St. Kitts and Nevis to withdraw their flag from the cargo vessel Winter Bay, which was carrying the 1,700 tonne whale meat shipment to Japan, received more than one million signatures.

Read more: Whaling is not an Icelandic tradition

In August last year Iceland Magazine reported that analysis by a local newsppaper Stundin revealed that an analysis of the annual accounts of Hvalur showed the company’s whaling operations had generated more than 12 million USD (10.1 million EUR) in losses in 2013 and 2014. The decision to stop whaling after the 2015 season does not indicate last year was any more successful than previous years. However, to date Hvalur has covered the losses from whaling with profits generated by the fishing giant HB Grandi, of which Hvalur is a major shareholder.

The decision by Hvalur will not have any impact on the hunting of minke whales. Minke whale meat is primarily consumed domestically. As in Japan the demand for whale products has dropped in Iceland, but demand is increasingly held up by restaurants who cater to foreign travellers.

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General

Icelandic whale meat shipment arrives in Japan

By Staff

  • Full Steam Ahead One of the whaling boats of Hvalur hf. A shipment containing last year's catch of fin whale made it to harbour in Japan on Sunday. Photo/Pjetur Sigurðsson

The cargo vessel Winter Bay arrived in harbour in Osaka in Japan on Sunday carrying 1,800 tons of fin whale meat from Iceland the Icelandic National Broadcasting Service reports. The meat, which is from last year’s whaling season in Iceland, corresponds to roughly 40% of the annual whale meat consumption in Japan.

Related: Kristján Loftsson‘s whaling generates a 7.5 million USD in losses

A long twisted voyage
The ship left harbour in Tromsö in Norway early August, after having been in harbour in Iceland since the beginning of summer. Initially the ship was supposed to sail with its cargo around the Cape of Good Hope, the same route a second vessel carrying Icelandic whale meat took in 2014. That ship ran into trouble docking along the route due to protest by environmentalists.

After engine trouble delayed the departure of Winter Bay Kristján Loftsson, the CEO and owner of Whaling firm Hvalur hf decided the ship would take the North-Eastern Passage through the Arctic. Kristján has always denied he made the decision to avoid protests by environmentalists.

Japanese media, however, report that the reason the ship sailed through the arctic, rather than the more usual southern routes, was that it wanted to avoid protesters and environmentalists.

Attempts to stop the shipment failed
The Canadian actress Pamela Anderson tried to persuade Russian authorities to deny the ship passage through the arctic, and more than one million people signed an online petition organized by avaaz.org, asking the government of St Kitts and Nevis, where the cargo vessel Winter Bay is registered, to strip it of its flag, thus stopping the shipment.

Read more: Whaler baffled by the internet, dismisses an on-line petition with million signatures

It remains to be seen whether Kristján Loftsson will run into more trouble when he sends this year’s whale catch to Japanese markets next year.

 

 

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Politics

Pamela Anderson still hopes to stop shipment of whale meat from Iceland to Japan

  • An ongoing battle Whaler Kristán Loftsson and actress Pamela Anderson continue to fight for the heart and mind of Russian president Vladimir Putin. Photo Vísir/Getty.

The Canadian Actress Pamela Anderson still hopes to persuade Russian authorities to stop the shipment of Icelandic whale meat to Japan via the north-eastern passage through the Arctic. The cargo vessel Winter Bay, registered in St Kitts and Nevis, recently left harbour in Tromsö Norway with 1,800 tons of whale products, destined for Japan.

In a letter sent to Vladimir Putin, the president of Russia, this July Pamela urged him to stop the shipment:

"I would love to have the opportunity to meet and to discuss how, on behalf of my Foundation, I can forge a constructive relationship with the Russian government over issues related to wildlife, animals and the environment.

I do have a voice in the international community and I would like to use my voice, as humble as it is, to help make this world a better place for all living things."

Yesterday Pamela Anderson announced that the Russian Minister of Natural Resources and Environment had agreed to meet her at the East Russia Economic Forum in Vladivostok next month.

Read more:Pamela Anderson appeals to Putin: Stop Icelandic Whale meat shipment

In a letter to the Russian Ambassador to the US, which was published on the website of the Pamela Anderson Foundation, Pamela expresses her gratitude that the representative of the Russian government will meet with her to discuss the shipment of whale meat by Hvalur hf. Furthermore she expresses her hope that this meeting might lead to “Russia looking into banning such transits of protected species in the future”.

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Politics

Kristján Loftsson‘s whaling generates a 7.5 million USD in losses

By Staff

  • Kristján Loftsson, CEO of Hvalur hf According to analysis of the financial statements of Hvalur hf, the company has made massive losses on its whaling operations in the past years. Photo/Anton Brink

According to the financial statements of Hvalur hf, the largest Icelandic whaling company, its whaling operations generated roughly a billion ISK in losses (7.5 million USD/6.8 million EUR). A shipment of whale products which Hvalur hf sent to Japan earlier this summer has caused a considerable stir, as it is in defiance of international agreements which ban international trade in whale products.

Loss generating whaling
According to analysis by the local news site kjarninn.is which acquired the financial statements of Hvalur hf, revenues from the sale of whale products in 2014 were roughly one billion krona. At the same time the cost of whaling operations exceeded two billion (15 million USD/13.6 million EUR). The company‘s whaling operations therefore generated a billion ISK loss in 2014. The year before the loss on whaling operations was 600 million ISK (4.5 million USD/4.1 million EUR).

Hvalur hf operates a whaling base in Hvalfjörður fjord, just north of Reykjavík, where its products are processed. According to the company‘s statements it caught 134 fin whales in 2013 and 137 in 2014.

Losses from whaling covered with profits from other operations
Despite the fact that its whaling operations generated massive losses the company Hvalur hf made profit of three billion krona in 2014 (22.4 million USD/20.5 million EUR), thanks in large part to its ownership of investment company Vogun hf, which owns a third of the fishing giant HB Grandi.

The cargo ship Winter Bay recently left harbour in Tromsö Norway with a cargo of 1,800 tonnes of whale products from last year’s catch. Yesterday we reported that the catch is valued at 15 million USD.

 

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Politics

Icelandic whale meat shipment heading to Japan worth 15 million USD

By Staff

  • Iceland's chief whaling advocate Kristján Loftsson feels he is owed congratulations from environmentalists for shipping whale products to Japan via the northeast-passage, rather than around the Cape of Good Hope. Photo/Stefán Karlsson.

The cargo vessel Winter bay, which is carrying Icelandic whale products to Japan, has left port in Tromsö Norway to sail the North-East passage through the Arctic. The ship is carrying meat and blubber from fin whales caught by ships operating from the Hvalfjörður fjord whaling station. These whales are caught in Faxaflói bay, outside the whale sanctuary inside the bay, where whale watching firms operating out of Reykjavík take their tours.

Last year's catch finally on it's way to Japan
In an interview with a Norwegian newspaper Fiskeribladet Fiskaren Kristján Loftsson, the CEO and owner of whaling firm Hvalur, which owns the whale products being shipped to Japan, revealed that the cargo is worth two billion Icelandic Krona (15 million USD/14 million EUR).

Kristján also argued the ship was taking the North-East passage because it was shorter than the route around the Cape of Good Hope. Last year Hvalur sent a shipment of whale products around the Cape of Good Hope which ran into considerable problems as the ship was refused permits to dock along the way, due to its controversial cargo. The North-East passage is 14,800 km (9,200 miles) shorter than the alternative route.

Feels he is owed congratulations from environmentalists
As in every other interview in which Kristján Loftosson appears, he used the opportunity to blast environmentalists and conservationists, ridiculing those who wish to conserve the whales.

"They should rather congratulate us for exploiting the fin whale population in a responsible manner and for transporting this cargo over this long distance to Japan in a exceptionally environmental manner."

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Politics

Icelandic Whaler encourages Australians to hunt “nuisance” whales

By Staff

  • Humback whales as a "nuisance" Kristján Loftsson, the owner of whaling firm Hvalur hf encourages Australians, is pleased the Prime Minister of Australia rejects climate change. Photo/Stefán Karlsson.

Kristján Loftsson,Chairman of the fishing firm HB Grandi and owner of the whaling company Hvalur encourages Australians to defy environmentalists and international agreements by resuming humpback-whaling. According to Kristján the whales are a “nuisance”.

Kristján Loftsson, who has been hunting whales and waging a war of words with environmentalist for many years, made his comments in an interview with the Australian newspaper Sydney Herald over the weekend. Australia was among the first countries to choose conservation over commercial whaling, permanently ending whaling in 1979.

Act before the whales bankrupt "everybody"
Conservationists believe the Australian whaling ban is a major factor in the recovery of the whale populations in the Southern Pacific. Still, whale populations in Australian waters are below 2% of their pre-whaling levels. However, Kristán believes the populations are growing too fast. The humpback population, which swims past Australia on its migration north from the Antarctic, is up to 30.000 animals, and are starting to cause a “nuisance” according to Kristán, who believes the whales will end up bankrupting “everybody” by paralyzing shipping and closing harbours:

“They are talking about it: 'Oh, we have to stop the ship traffic'. In 10 years' time it will be 60,000. You will have to close the port of Brisbane and make everybody bankrupt.”

Dismisses environmentalists as loudmouths
Popular support has been shrinking rapidly in recent years in Iceland. The growth of the tourism industry and popularity of whale watching are among the reasons, as is the campaigning of environmentalists in Iceland in recent years. Kristján dismisses these out of hand:

"You have some [activists] here run by some of these US [environmental] groups. They are just a handful of people. They are pretty loud but I am not worried about these."

As to the politics of whaling, Kristján couldn’t care less. To him its all about a heroic stance against popular opionion and scientific consensus:

"I don't care less. I went whaling myself in Australia once in 1977, out of Albany. All these guys in the [International] Whaling Commission … haven't a clue what they are talking about. Where is this f---ing world opinion [against whaling]? Have you ever seen an opinion poll taken around the world?And who likes being told what to do? You don't like that in Australia. Like this climate [change] talk: your prime minister, he doesn't care less. I like that. He's my man."

Upholding a tradition stretching back a few decades
Loftsson told the Sydney Herald that his whaling was sustainable, and that he was upholding a family tradition: “I've been in this game for all my life, my father started this business in 1947,"

That was the year Icelanders started commercial whaling. Prior to the 1940s there was no Icelandic whaling industry. Although there are historical sources of fishermen killing whales, Icelanders had never hunted for whale in a systematic manner until after World War II. All whaling off the coat of Iceland was done by foreign fleets, from Spain, England and Norway.

Marine archaeologist … who has been investigating remains of Basque whaling stations in the Westfjords told Iceland Magazine that the notion that Icelanders have a historical tradition of whaling was ridiculous and “historical revisionism of the worst kind”.

Read more: Tour archaeological digs of Basque whaling stations in the Westfjords
 

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