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Iceland and Japan launch spring whale hunts

28/04/2011 08:17:14

Iceland's whalers killed 148 Endangered Fin whales in 2010.

Iceland's whale hunters start seasonal slaughter to put whale meat on tourist plates
April 2011. The Icelandic Minke Whalers Association has confirmed that one of its boats, the Hrafnreyður KO-100 has now sailed from Hafnarfjorður for the start of the Minke whaling season in Iceland. Despite poor weather conditions, the vessel is now looking for Minke whales in Faxaflói Bay.

40% eaten by tourists
Up to 40% of Iceland's Minke whale catch ends up on the dinner plates of tourists visiting the country. More than 100 restaurants and shops are selling Minke whale meat and Iceland's whalers are putting more effort into promoting the sale of whale meat as an exotic food. The Minke whalers have moved their processing operations to a larger location in Hafnarfjorður, just south of Reykjavik, and will be offering smoked and marinated whale meat, in addition to whale steaks for grilling.

The whalers are also offering consumers the chance to buy whale meat on the web, with whale steaks selling for £6.45 a kilo, and smoked Minke meat and canned fin whale selling for £16.15 per kilo.

Iceland whaling quotas

The Iceland Marine Research Institute (HAFRO) has recommended that the annual catch of common Minke whales off Iceland not exceed 216 animals, although there are additional provisions for a carryover of up to 20% of unused quota from year to year. This advice applies for the calendar years 2011 and 2012. However, last year's Minke hunt resulted in the death of 60 whales, and much of that is due to the limitations of the domestic market. 148 endangered Fin whales were killed by the Hvalur hf whaling company in 2010.

Tourists can play a major role
"There is a reason that tourists cannot find whale meat on the menu at home - it is illegal to sell whale products in most countries", said Sue Fisher, whaling campaign lead for WDCS (the Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society). "Every exotic whale dish bought by tourists in Iceland, from carpaccio to kebabs, helps to keep the Minke whaling industry afloat. WDCS wants tourists to support the Icelandic whale watching industry, not the whalers."

The Minke whale hunt will continue through the summer, and whaling for the larger, endangered fin whale is expected to begin in late June.

Japanese whale hunt
Meanwhile, half the world away, three boats left the port of Kushiro, Hokkaido, Tuesday for Japan's spring research whaling season. The spring hunt, which usually departs from Ayukawa port in the Miyagi prefecture, has been switched to Kushiro, which is also the base for Japan's autumn whale hunt. Ayukawa port was severely damaged by the March 11 earthquake and tsunami.

The permits issued by the Japanese government indicate that 60 Minke whales are targeted in the hunt, which will last until early June. The government has indicated that it will test the first whales for potential radiation contamination.

Fisher notes, "The pressure on vulnerable coastal whale populations continues in all three whaling countries. Whales in coastal waters face increasing threats from entanglement in fishing gear, habitat degradation and ship strikes. Japan's doubling of its take off Hokkaido is cause for concern, as it could have serious implications for the endangered J stock of Minke whales."

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