A whale of a prob­lem

THEY shot her with an ex­plod­ing har­poon, hacked her foe­tus out her belly and trashed the un­born baby.

People (South Africa) - - Contents - BY VANESSA PAPAS

VI­SU­ALS of a heav­ily preg­nant fin whale bru­tally killed and her un­born baby ripped from her body has caused shock­waves among an­i­mal ac­tivists across the world. The im­ages were cap­tured by an­ti­whal­ing groups in Ice­land. They show 75-year-old mil­lion­aire Krist­jan Lofts­son’s whal­ing op­er­a­tion, Hvalur, butcher­ing a fe­male be­lieved to be a rare blue and fin whale hy­brid. It’s un­der­stood she was just one of 125 en­dan­gered fin whales Ice­landic Lofts­son killed this year. The fin whale is a ma­rine mam­mal be­long­ing to the par­vorder of baleen whales. It is the sec­ond-largest species on Earth af­ter the blue whale. The largest re­port­edly grow to 27.3 me­tres long with a max­i­mum con­firmed length of 25.9 me­tres, a max­i­mum recorded weight of nearly 74 tonnes, and a max­i­mum es­ti­mated weight of around

114 tonnes. Amer­i­can nat­u­ral­ist Roy Chap­man An­drews called the fin whale ‘the grey­hound of the sea’ for its beau­ti­ful, slen­der body is built like a rac­ing yacht and the an­i­mal can sur­pass the speed of the fastest ocean steamship. Like all other large whales, the fin whale was heav­ily hunted dur­ing the 20th cen­tury. As a re­sult, it is an en­dan­gered species. Over 725 000 fin whales were re­port­edly taken from the South­ern Hemi­sphere be­tween 1905 and 1976; as of 1997 only 38 000 sur­vived. Re­cov­ery of the over­all pop­u­la­tion size of south­ern species is pre­dicted to be at less than 50 per­cent of its pre-whal­ing state by 2100 due to heav­ier im­pacts of whal­ing and slower re­cov­ery rates. The In­ter­na­tional Whal­ing Com­mis­sion (IWC) is­sued a mora­to­rium on com­mer­cial hunt­ing of this whale, although Ice­land and

Ja­pan have re­sumed hunt­ing. The species is also hunted by Green­lan­ders un­der the IWC’s Abo­rig­i­nal Sub­sis­tence Whal­ing pro­vi­sions. Global pop­u­la­tion es­ti­mates range from less than 100 000 to roughly 119 000. There is no de­bate that Fin whales are awein­spir­ing – ca­pa­ble of com­mu­ni­cat­ing through song, feel­ing love and deep

Sig­ursteinn emo­tional suf­fer­ing. Ac­cord­ing

Mas­son to on­line pe­ti­tions, Lofts­son is the last man on the planet still slaugh­ter­ing these gen­tle gi­ants for profit, with many of them preg­nant when slaugh­tered. Cur­rently, Ice­land’s new gov­ern­ment is con­sid­er­ing end­ing whal­ing, but they could face a moun­tain of back­lash from the ty­coon and his whal­ing lobby.

Lofts­son’s boats hunt with ex­plo­sive-tipped har­poons. The charge is de­signed to go off in­side the an­i­mal’s body. Some­times, a sec­ond shot is needed. The dead whale is then se­cured to

Krist­jan the ship and taken to Ice­land’s

Lofts­son only whal­ing sta­tion, where it’s sliced up for meat. Most of it is des­tined for Ja­pan.

This year, the hunt­ing sea­son tar­get­ing fin whales be­gan in early June. Hvalur was per­mit­ted to kill roughly 200 fin whales (num­bers vary from 166 to 240 with an ex­act fig­ure not de­ter­mined) by the end of the sea­son in Septem­ber. At the time of go­ing to press it was un­known as to how many they had slaugh­tered but ex­perts claimed it was just un­der 100. What has caused out­rage is the death of the spe­cific rare blue and fin whale hy­brid. Other whale species can oc­ca­sion­ally get caught up in the com­pany’s metaphor­i­cal nets, and this what al­legedly hap­pened with the hy­brid.

Lofts­son ap­par­ently ad­mit­ted to a me­dia out­let that the hy­brid was the fourth of its kind his com­pany had ‘ac­ci­dently’ net­ted and killed. He im­plied these un­in­ten­tional kills amount to col­lat­eral dam­age, say­ing it’s tricky to iden­tify whales dur­ing a hunt. He also said it’s im­pos­si­ble to know whether a whale is preg­nant and that preg­nant whales must be good news for the whale stock. “If we hunted here dur­ing a whole sum­mer sea­son and we got no foe­tuses then there would be some­thing wrong,” he said. An­other me­dia out­let, how­ever, said

Lofts­son de­nied that they had net­ted the rare whale, claim­ing Sea Shep­herd UK – an in­ter­na­tional non-profit, ma­rine wildlife con­ser­va­tion or­gan­i­sa­tion – had ‘Pho­toshopped’ the image. Sea Shep­herd re­sponded by say­ing the im­ages had in no way been al­tered. DNA ev­i­dence car­ried out at Ice­land’s Ma­rine Re­search In­sti­tute have con­firmed that the whale was the off­spring of a fe­male blue whale and a male fin whale.

Sig­ursteinn Mas­son, the Ice­landic rep­re­sen­ta­tive for the In­ter­na­tional Fund for An­i­mal Wel­fare (IFAW), said the hy­brid’s death re­in­forces the fact that it is dif­fi­cult for whalers at sea to iden­tify which species they are ac­tu­ally pur­su­ing. The re­sult is that a rare and pro­tected species ul­ti­mately suf­fers the col­lat­eral dam­age re­sult­ing from an un­nec­es­sary and cul­tur­ally un­pop­u­lar hunt.

Ocean cam­paigns leader Clare Perry says: “It‘s un­fath­omable that a coun­try so well known for its na­ture tourism is tar­nish­ing its image by al­low­ing com­mer­cial whal­ing to con­tinue.”

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