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Fin whale with unexploded harpoon © Hard To Port
Fin whale with unexploded grenade harpoon embedded in his or her side. © Hard To Port

A new report by the Icelandic government exploring welfare concerns around its own fin whale hunts has revealed that some of those killed can take as long as two hours to die. But the hunts may well be allowed to continue again in just a few weeks.

The shocking findings from the Icelandic food and veterinary authority were reached after a number of dead whales shot using grenade tipped harpoons during last year’s hunts were examined.

Together with our conservation partner in Iceland, Hard To Port, we recently alerted government officials to disturbing evidence of grenade-tipped harpoons failing to explode when fired into fin whales during the last hunt season. Iceland’s minister of food, agriculture and fisheries, Svandís Svavarsdóttir, then issued a regulation requiring her officials to begin onboard vessel monitoring.

The new report shows that nearly 40% of the fin whales shot struggled for approximately 11 and a half minutes before death, whilst some took over an hour to die. Many had to be shot more than once with just under half of those killed failing to die instantly. One whale with a harpoon stuck in his or her body was found to have been chased for five hours without being killed.

Minister Svavarsdóttir, described the report as alarming. She stated that there is a need for a discussion in Iceland about the hunts and the ‘values we want to be known for’.

‘I believe that industries incapable of guaranteeing animal welfare should be considered part of our past rather than our future’, she said. ‘This report, along with the expert council on animal welfare’s findings, will serve as essential background material for making decisions about the future of whaling post 2023.’

The minister has previously cast doubt over the future of the hunts in Iceland, saying that there is now little justification for authorizing whaling. She also stated that whaling has damaged Iceland's reputation and negatively affected exports, comments echoed by the Icelandic Tourist Board.

But doubts remain over the hunts being stopped immediately. ‘These devastating findings confirm that whaling in Iceland should end now’ said Astrid Fuchs, WDC anti whaling campaigner. ‘The hunting ships are currently being made ready to start hunting in June.  However, the minister allegedly currently sees no legal basis for preventing this, since the license has already been granted.’

Fin whales are listed as ‘vulnerable’ by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) but 148 were killed in the Icelandic hunts last year. With little demand for the meat and growing scientific evidence of the important role whales play in helping to fight climate breakdown, it makes no sense to continue with this cruel slaughter.

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