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Love Japan, love the Olympics, love whales – why Japan needs to stop killing whales to save the planet

In times of crisis it's important to have opportunities to take our minds off things....
Watching dolphins from the WDC Scottish Dolphin Centre © WDC/Charlie Phillips

Dolphins galore – a different kind of summer on Scotland’s Moray Firth

We've spotted so many bottlenose dolphins here at the WDC Scottish Dolphin Centre over the...
Plastic pollution on beach

Plastic Free July – choose to refuse

Plastic is everywhere. When I look around me, I see a gazillion things made of...
Dolphin using a sponge as a tool

Did you know dolphins use tools? Meet the Shark Bay spongers …

Like humans, dolphins live in societies with unique cultures. Like us, they bond with others...

Shameful whale experiments in Norway – what we know and why they must stop

As football fans settle down to enjoy a beer, a barbeque and the opening games...

One world ocean – why we need to think globally and act locally

On World Ocean(s) Day let's remember that there is only one ocean on our world....

Whale culture and conservation: to infinity and beyond …

In 1977, the Voyager 1 and 2 spacecraft launched, carrying with them the song of...
The young whale is attended by BDMLR medics and ZSL vets © Julia Cable/BDMLR

A sad end for the young Thames minke whale – what do we know?

It's such a special and, for most of us, rare experience to see a whale...
All policy news
  • All policy news
  • Create healthy seas
  • End captivity
  • Prevent deaths in nets
  • Stop whaling
Sperm whale © Douglas Hoffman

Featured policy news item

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit. Nunc magna elit, gravida at lectus vitae,...
sea_world_orlando_rob_lott

Holiday giant Thomas Cook stops selling tickets to Seaworld and Loro Parque

Holiday giant Thomas Cook stops selling tickets to Seaworld and Loro Parque Following a three...

Endangered Southern Resident orca loses newborn calf

In heartbreaking news from the Pacific Northwest, the Center for Whale Research has reported that...
srkw_shoup_2003_text

U.S. Defense Bill weakens protections for whales

24 July 2018, Plymouth, MA: The FY2019 National Defense Authorization Act conference report was released...

Doubts remain after Icelandic Marine Institute claims slaughtered whale was a hybrid not a blue

Experts remain sceptical of initial test results issued by the Icelandic Marine Institute, which indicate...
f0k5103-2

Did Icelandic whalers really kill a blue whale?

*Warning - this blog contains an image that you may find upsetting* They say a...
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One step closer to more salmon for endangered Southern Resident orcas

On June 28, 2018, the Klamath River Renewal Corporation (KRRC) filed “The Definite Plan” for...
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Narwhals and Bowhead whales threatened by new Arctic shipping routes

A NASA-funded study has warned that marine creatures like whales and dolphins will be exposed...
japanese_whaling_2005_-_minke_whales_credit_jeremy_sutton-hibbert_for_use_until_28.2.17_1

Japan set to resume commercial whaling

Reports from Japan suggest that the government they will formally propose plans to resume commercial...
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Iceland flouts international ban to slaughter first protected fin whale of new hunting season

Icelandic whaling company Hvalur hf has slaughtered an endangered fin whale today in defiance of...
l92_dave_ellifrit_cwr

Southern Resident orca L92 missing as community returns to the Salish Sea

We are very sad to share news announced today by the Center for Whale Research...
whale_alert_flag_san_juan_county

New actions in the Northwest to help Southern Resident orcas and salmon

As the Washington State Task Force starts to examine threats to the endangered Southern Resident...
All articles
  • All articles
  • About whales & dolphins
  • Create healthy seas
  • End captivity
  • Prevent deaths in nets
  • Scottish Dolphin Centre
  • Stop whaling

Love Japan, love the Olympics, love whales – why Japan needs to stop killing whales to save the planet

In times of crisis it's important to have opportunities to take our minds off things....
Watching dolphins from the WDC Scottish Dolphin Centre © WDC/Charlie Phillips

Dolphins galore – a different kind of summer on Scotland’s Moray Firth

We've spotted so many bottlenose dolphins here at the WDC Scottish Dolphin Centre over the...
Plastic pollution on beach

Plastic Free July – choose to refuse

Plastic is everywhere. When I look around me, I see a gazillion things made of...
Dolphin using a sponge as a tool

Did you know dolphins use tools? Meet the Shark Bay spongers …

Like humans, dolphins live in societies with unique cultures. Like us, they bond with others...

Shameful whale experiments in Norway – what we know and why they must stop

As football fans settle down to enjoy a beer, a barbeque and the opening games...

One world ocean – why we need to think globally and act locally

On World Ocean(s) Day let's remember that there is only one ocean on our world....

Whale culture and conservation: to infinity and beyond …

In 1977, the Voyager 1 and 2 spacecraft launched, carrying with them the song of...
The young whale is attended by BDMLR medics and ZSL vets © Julia Cable/BDMLR

A sad end for the young Thames minke whale – what do we know?

It's such a special and, for most of us, rare experience to see a whale...
All policy news
  • All policy news
  • Create healthy seas
  • End captivity
  • Prevent deaths in nets
  • Stop whaling
Sperm whale © Douglas Hoffman

Featured policy news item

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit. Nunc magna elit, gravida at lectus vitae,...
sea_world_orlando_rob_lott

Holiday giant Thomas Cook stops selling tickets to Seaworld and Loro Parque

Holiday giant Thomas Cook stops selling tickets to Seaworld and Loro Parque Following a three...

Endangered Southern Resident orca loses newborn calf

In heartbreaking news from the Pacific Northwest, the Center for Whale Research has reported that...
srkw_shoup_2003_text

U.S. Defense Bill weakens protections for whales

24 July 2018, Plymouth, MA: The FY2019 National Defense Authorization Act conference report was released...

Doubts remain after Icelandic Marine Institute claims slaughtered whale was a hybrid not a blue

Experts remain sceptical of initial test results issued by the Icelandic Marine Institute, which indicate...
f0k5103-2

Did Icelandic whalers really kill a blue whale?

*Warning - this blog contains an image that you may find upsetting* They say a...
iron_gate_dam_klamath

One step closer to more salmon for endangered Southern Resident orcas

On June 28, 2018, the Klamath River Renewal Corporation (KRRC) filed “The Definite Plan” for...
monodon_monoceros-wdc3

Narwhals and Bowhead whales threatened by new Arctic shipping routes

A NASA-funded study has warned that marine creatures like whales and dolphins will be exposed...
japanese_whaling_2005_-_minke_whales_credit_jeremy_sutton-hibbert_for_use_until_28.2.17_1

Japan set to resume commercial whaling

Reports from Japan suggest that the government they will formally propose plans to resume commercial...
hvalfjordur_035

Iceland flouts international ban to slaughter first protected fin whale of new hunting season

Icelandic whaling company Hvalur hf has slaughtered an endangered fin whale today in defiance of...
l92_dave_ellifrit_cwr

Southern Resident orca L92 missing as community returns to the Salish Sea

We are very sad to share news announced today by the Center for Whale Research...
whale_alert_flag_san_juan_county

New actions in the Northwest to help Southern Resident orcas and salmon

As the Washington State Task Force starts to examine threats to the endangered Southern Resident...

Did Icelandic whalers really kill a blue whale?

*Warning – this blog contains an image that you may find upsetting*

They say a week is a long time in politics. Well it also feels a long time in whale conservation!

A great deal has happened since we circulated a press release on July 11 which stated that Icelandic whalers, out hunting fin whales for the first time in three years, appeared to have killed an endangered and strictly protected blue whale (or possibly a rare blue/fin hybrid).

For those of you not familiar with this story, here’s the sequence of events.

Just before midnight on Saturday, 7th July, the Hvalur hf. fin whaling company landed its 22nd catch of the season at the whaling station at Hvalfjörður, Iceland. The whale hauled up the slipway caught the attention of Arne Feuerhahn, a German conservationist documenting the hunt, as he was strikingly different in appearance to a fin whale.

Arne asked us to help him identify the whale from the images he had taken from his vantage point outside the whaling station. I emailed the images to blue whale experts around the globe, asking for their thoughts – they came back pretty unanimous: ‘Whale 22’ was definitely not a fin whale, and on the basis of various physical characteristics (including his overall mottled blue/grey skin, dark belly and baleen and mottled underside of his tail fluke), most likely a blue whale or a blue whale/fin whale hybrid. I have to agree. I’ve been lucky enough to spend time around many blue whales off Sri Lanka and this whale certainly – and tragically – looks very much like a blue.

At that point, with this situation looking increasingly serious, we went to the press.

So what’s happened since then?

That same morning, we contacted the Director General of MAST, the Icelandic veterinary authority, and Gisli Vikingsson, marine biologist at the Marine and Freshwater Research Institute (MFRI), raising our strong belief that this whale could well be a blue whale and asking for immediate testing to confirm the species involved. We also made sure that this issue was on the radars of the International Whaling Commission (the body that regulates whaling), DEFRA and CITES (the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species). Iceland kills both fin and minke whales under a much disputed ‘reservation’ (loophole) to the global ban on commercial whaling but they are forbidden to hunt blue whales.

Our press release was picked up by the BBC, the Daily Mirror and a host of other outlets. Questions were even asked of Prime Minister, Katrin Jakobsdottir, during a NATO meeting.

And then came the further push we needed: the scientists themselves approached the authorities, demanding early testing to confirm whether a blue whale had indeed been taken and citing Icelandic legislation which provides for the whaling boats to be grounded if an alleged illegal kill has taken place.

Their intervention was much appreciated. It attracted a great deal of media attention and has certainly upped the pace of this investigation. Throughout, the whalers and the authorities have clung stubbornly to the official line, namely that the whale in question is a hybrid (and therefore, they say, not a big issue and an ‘allowable’ – if somewhat unfortunate – mistake). They originally said that they wouldn’t test samples from this whale until the autumn, but growing pressure has forced a U-turn and our hope is that DNA testing will now take place within days. Importantly, too, the massive media interest and the knowledge that the world is watching seems to have reinvigorated the desire of the prime minister to tackle the growing problem of whaling, as she recognises it is damaging her country’s image.

Why does it matter whether this whale is a blue or a hybrid?

Blue whales are internationally protected. The IWC banned the hunting of blues as far back as 1966 and whilst Spanish whalers killed a blue whale in 1978, most countries have respected this ban and blue whales, rightly, have an iconic status.

Killing a blue whale is illegal – even within Iceland, there would be strict penalties and massive damage to the country in PR terms.

This incident raises further disturbing questions: if the whalers can’t tell a blue whale (or a hybrid that looks darned like a blue whale) in the water, how can they claim their hunts are well-managed and sustainable? Surely this demonstrates that their whaling is out of control?

WDC has always said that there is no humane way to kill a whale at sea. Many whales do not die instantly and may suffer for a considerable time in terror and agony before succumbing to a second harpoon or rifle bullet.  Reaching up to 33m, the blue whale is the largest creature on Earth – the largest ever to have lived – imagine how much it takes to kill a creature that big?

And whilst the whalers dismiss hybrid whales as ‘anomalies of nature’, they are actually very rare and therefore, important to science. Five blue/fin hybrids have been identified by researchers since 1986 around Iceland.  Four of these are already dead: killed by Icelandic whalers. One has become famous and is very popular with whale watchers off Husavik and was identified as a hybrid using non-lethal methods.

What happens next?

Massive pressure from scientists, the media and the public have already ensured that the genetic testing of Whale 22 will be fast-tracked. We also need the results to be fair and transparent.

Join the protest this Friday!

If you are in central London this Friday, 20 July at 1pm, you can join a peaceful protest outside the Icelandic embassy in Knightsbridge. I will be there!

About Vanessa Williams-Grey

Policy manager - Stop Whaling and Responsible Whale Watching