SOURCES from the international marine conservation organisation Oceana have indicated that the Icelandic vessel Hvalur 9 had captured a fin whale 200 miles from the coast. This is the second one to be caught in as many weeks.
These same sources point out that it may be months before this whale meat can be sold, because it must undergo a series of chemical analyses outside of the country in order to guarantee that it meets the required health standards for human consumption.
Apart from this long health certification process, Iceland has apparently been told by Japan, one of its regular whale meat purchasers, that it does not want the meat. According to news from Útvarpio (National Icelandic Radio), the Japanese ambassador in Iceland affirmed on Monday night that the Japanese already have enough whale meat as a result of their own "scientific hunting", and that they are encountering problems selling this meat, so they will most likely not be buying any whale meat from Iceland.
Furthermore, according to a Gallup pole cited by the IFAW organisation, only one per cent of the Icelandic population eats whale meat once a week, while 82 per cent never eats it at all.
Both facts seem to discredit the main arguments used by the Icelandic government to justify its re-opening of the whaling season, disregarding the moratorium established by the International Whaling Commission (IWC) in 1985 which is still in effect today, Oceana says.
According to biologist Xavier Pastor, director of Oceana in Europe: "There is no way to justify whale hunting by Iceland. Not even for commercial reasons, since a market for this meat no longer exists. It is completely immoral to keep slaughtering these animals that are in danger of extinction, without any justification at all."
The Icelandic whaling fleet's objective is to capture 30 rorquals (Minke whales) and nine lesser rorquals (fin whales). This latter species is classified as "endangered" in the UICN's Red List (The World Conservation Union), which means it is in grave danger of extinction. In spite of this, Oceana says the Icelandic government has affirmed that this activity forms part of its general policy for "sustainable use of marine resources" and that the country's reserves are sufficiently large to support this quota for whale hunting.
It is not likely that Iceland will be able to export this whale meat because the lesser rorqual is also listed in Annex I of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), Oceana says. Iceland holds an official exemption within CITES, but the importation of this meat by any other CITES member country is prohibited. Any country that imports Icelandic whale meat risks being condemned by the international community.
According to Pastor: "The Icelandic government's decision calls into question Iceland's seriousness and commitment not only regarding marine conservation, but also the sustainable use of natural resources."
Since the beginning of the moratorium 17 years ago, Iceland has created an important tourist industry based on "whale watching". Oceana says this contributes more benefits to the country than commercial whale hunting could and may come into direct conflict with this industry. It is estimated that a total of 70,000 British tourists visited Iceland last year to observe cetaceans.
According to Oceana's spokesperson: "It is deplorable that in spite of the international agreements that have been signed and ratified, there are still countries that decide, with impunity, to disregard them by alluding to reasons that cannot even be justified. The European governments and the international community need to pressure these countries urgently in order to put an end to this situation."
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