In July 2018, photos of a dead endangered blue whale off the west coast of Iceland surfaced online provoking anger and condemnation from the international marine conservationist community (hunting for blue whales is illegal in Iceland).
Kristján Loftsson, managing director of Hvalur hf and one of Iceland’s richest men, was accused of killing and butchering the largest animal that has ever lived (it reaches 30 meters long and weighs up to 200 tonnes) – a protected species that hasn’t been deliberately killed since 1978.
However, Loftsson hit back at the critics saying the whale in question was either a fin whale or a hybrid species, not protected under Icelandic law. He told CNN:
“We have never caught a blue whale in our waters since they were protected. We see them in the ocean. When you approach a blue whale, it’s so distinct that you leave it alone. If it was a blue whale, the kill was purely accidental.”
He explained to the BBC:
“I am absolutely confident that it’s a hybrid. To mistake a blue whale for a fin whale is impossible, this whale has all the characterisations of a fin whale in the ocean. There are a lot of blue whales off the Iceland coast, when we see the blows and sail to it, and we realise it is a blue and then we leave it and go and look for fin whales.”
However, a number of international experts and animal rights campaigners who photographed the whale’s carcass concluded it was indeed a blue whale.
“It’s definitely a blue or at the very least a blue-fin hybrid,” Ellen Coombs, a biologist at University College London, told The Independent. “The images showed a much lighter dorsal fin than would be found on a fin whale, with blue-grey mottled skin characteristic of a blue. A white underbelly and chin commonly found on fin whales appeared to be absent as well.”
Phillip Clapham, a senior whale biologist with the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Alaska Fisheries Science Centre, said in a statement: “From the photos, it has all the characteristics of a blue whale. Given that, notably the coloration pattern, there is almost no possibility that an experienced observer would have misidentified it as anything else at sea.”
Paul Watson, founder of marine conservation group Sea Shepherd, remarked:
“This man must be stopped from ruthlessly violating international conservation law and bringing such disrepute to the nation of Iceland. There can be no legal justification for this crime. I have viewed plenty of blue whales on the surface, dived with them beneath the surface in West Australia, off the coast of California, in the Southern Ocean and in the waters off Newfoundland. I know a Blue whale when I see one and this whale slaughtered by Kristján Loftsson is a blue whale.”
Dr Peter Richardson, head of ocean recovery at the Marine Conservation Society, told the Telegraph he believed the animal is a blue whale after analyzing the photos:
“This is a deplorable act – the blue whale, the largest animal ever to grace our planet, is endangered and protected under all relevant international agreements. We urge the UK Government, who have historically led global whale conservation efforts, to send the strongest objections to Iceland about the killing of this iconic species.”
The last case of a blue whale being deliberately captured and killed was recorded 40 years ago off the coast of Spain. If Loftsson, the world’s last commercial hunter of fin whales who tells the whale watchers to “look somewhere else” when they his boats, has his way, blue whales with an estimated worldwide population of 10,000 to 25,000 may not take long to go extinct.
Take a look at how Iceland is blatantly butchering the endangered blue whale for export: