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Minke whalers cold shouldered by whale and seal watchers

Amidst the massive – and well-deserved – publicity surrounding the recent resumption of fin whaling off Iceland, a quieter but no less cruel and inhumane hunt has been going on for some weeks. Unlike the fin whale hunt, which thankfully enjoyed a hiatus in 2011 and 2012, minke whales have been hunted without mercy and each year over the past decade between  25 – 60 have been slaughtered.

Sadly, this year is no exception and at the time of writing the number of minkes killed off Iceland is well into double figures and more whales are being landed by the day.

I’ve been somewhat cheered though, by the news that the whalers have not been welcome in at least two whaling grounds. After killing three minkes in Faxafloi Bay, the whalers complained bitterly about restrictions put upon their hunt by the recent extension of the whaling-free zone (sadly now under review, much to the anger of the local whale watch industry) and promptly headed north to Hunafloi Bay.

These new hunting grounds also proved temporary – the whalers this time raised the ire of the local seal watching company, who complained they were hunting too close to the seal haul-out areas. Kjartan Sveinsson, master of the seal watching boat, Brimli, echoed the Faxafloi Bay whale watch community when he expressed concerns about the minke whaling : “it interferes with seal watching…they are just 3 or four miles away and this is a critical time for seal pups – it was obvious that the seals were frightened, they kept going up and down, up and down, something they have not done before.  To destroy in a few days what we have been building here over four years – naturally, we feel that this is out of bounds.”

Two minke whales were taken at Hunafloi – sadly the same animals which the seal-watching vessels had also encountered and enjoyed viewing, further underlining the belief of the marine wildlife viewing industry that, whatever the whalers may claim, these industries cannot co-exist.

Predictably, the whalers bit back. Spokesperson, Gunnar Bergmann Jonsson, denied that whaling at Hunafloi disturbed seal watching and laid the blame that they had been forced so far north squarely at the door of the government and its decision to expand the whale sanctuary area. “Of course we had to look for a new area when [Faxafloi Bay] was shut down. But the area cannot be closed off further, as that would be the end of minke whaling entirely.”

Gunnar’s response was simply to move the Hrafnreydur once more, this time up to Siglufjordur, where the vessel reportedly received a “warm reception”. Given how many whales they have killed there in the past few days, that is not a good sign.

Please remember that much of the minke whale meat on sale in Iceland is consumed by tourists – please don’t put money in the whalers’ pockets: avoid venues serving whale meat and politely explain your reasons to the proprietor!