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This dolphin was trapped in a plastic ring but, thankfully, successfully freed. Photograph was taken by Q. Gibson, University of North Florida, under the authority of NMFS LOC No. 14157

To save whales, dolphins and the world, we need a global treaty on plastic pollution

Millions of tonnes of plastic enter the environment every year impacting ecosystems and species. Plastic...
Humpback whale Salt with her calf

A humpback whale teacher named Salt who helps keep you and me alive

Salt is a remarkable whale. In fact she's probably the most famous humpback whale in...
Blue whale (balaenoptera musculus) A blue whale tail at sunset. Gulf of California.

Whales, trees and butterflies – how we’re giving a voice to the ocean at COP26

I'm in Glasgow in Scotland representing WDC, Whale and Dolphin Conservation at COP26, the UN's...
Gray whale (eschrichtius robustus) The eye of  a gray whale. Pacific coast Mexico.

Save the whale, save the world – because our lives depend on it

Carl Sagan famously called our planet a 'pale blue dot' when he saw the first...
© WDC

The horror – reflecting on the massacre of 1,428 dolphins on the Faroe Islands

Like you and millions of people around the globe, I felt horrified by the news...
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 in Shark Bay

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...

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....
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  • All policy news
  • Create healthy seas
  • End captivity
  • Prevent deaths in nets
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Minke whale hunts stop in Iceland

Iceland’s commercial hunt of minke whales has ended for this year. The common minke whale is the...
Port River dolphins

New report reveals 100,000 dolphins and small whales hunted every year

When you hear the words ‘dolphin hunts’ it’s likely that you think of Japan or...

End the whale hunts! Icelandic fin whaler isolated as public mood shifts

Here’s a sight I hoped never again to witness. A boat being scrubbed and repainted...

Australian Government to block Japanese whaling proposal

Japanese Government officials have reportedly confirmed that they will propose the resumption of commercial whaling...

Pregnant whales once again a target for Japanese whalers

Figures from Japan's whaling expedition to Antarctica during the 2017/18 austral summer have revealed that...

Did Icelandic whalers really kill a blue whale?

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

Icelandic whalers breach international law and kill iconic, protected whale by mistake

Icelandic whalers out hunting fin whales for the first time in three years appear to...

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...

Japan set to resume commercial whaling

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

Norway's whaling season begins

April 1st saw the start of the whaling season in Norway. Despite a widely-accepted international moratorium...

Norway increases whaling quota despite declining demand

Norway's government has announced an increase in the number of minke whales that can be...

Icelandic fin whale hunting to resume

Iceland’s only fin whaling company, Hvalur hf,  announced today that it will resume fin whaling...

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!