10 min read

This Country Just Killed Yet Another Super Rare Whale

Only six of them have ever been found in the world 😱

In July, Icelandic whalers shocked the world when they harpooned and killed an incredibly rare whale, thought to be a hybrid between a blue whale and a fin whale. And now, a little over a month later, the whalers have killed another one.

On August 24, Arne Feuerhahn, founder of Hard to Port, a German organization that documents the Icelandic whale hunts, arrived at the whaling station in Hvalfjörður, Iceland, when he noticed the workers cutting up the body of an unusual-looking whale.

Body of rare hybrid whale being at whaling station
Whale 98 — the second rare hybrid whale killed by Icelandic hunters | Sea Shepherd UK

“I came to the station a little late, and a lot of the animal had been taken apart already,” Feuerhahn told The Dodo. “What I saw immediately were the baleen plates, and they seemed to be very suspicious because they were completely black, and I’ve only seen one case where the baleen has been just completely black, and that has been with the famous Whale 22 — the confirmed hybrid whale from July 7.”

Rare blue whale hybrid at whaling station
Sea Shepherd UK

Volunteers from Sea Shepherd UK, another group documenting the Icelandic whale hunts, also managed to photograph the whale, which was the 98th whale killed this year — and the whale’s large, bluish body provided further clues that the animal was a hybrid.

“They [the volunteers] are pretty much shocked at every whale they bring in, but they were shocked again that they [the hunters] dared to bring back another hybrid whale,” Rob Read, director for Sea Shepherd UK, told The Dodo. “Even if they didn’t realize when they pulled the trigger on the harpoon, they would have realized when they tied him to the side of the ship.”

Rare hybrid whale at Icelandic whaling station
Sea Shepherd UK

A sample of the whale's body was tested by the Marine and Freshwater Research Institute in Iceland, and the test confirmed that the whale was a blue whale hybrid, Feuerhahn explained.

The Icelandic whale hunts are being run by a private company called Hvalur, which is managed by Kristján Loftsson. The hunts immediately raised eyebrows when Hvalur announced that it would be targeting 238 fin whales, an endangered species. But the hunts have attracted even more condemnation with the killing of two rare fin whale and blue whale hybrids.

Workers posing for a picture in front of the dead hybrid whale | Sea Shepherd UK

“These hybrids are very rare,” Feuerhahn told The Dodo in July. “We have confirmation from the Icelandic authorities that there have been five or six documented animals of this kind. One hybrid is known in the northern part of Iceland, which is a quite popular animal because it’s regularly seen on whale watching trips. And all of the others that have been registered were killed by Icelandic whalers.”

Workers cutting up dead whale
Workers starting to cut up the dead hybrid whale | Sea Shepherd UK

Iceland is one of the only countries in the world that continue to hunt whales despite the International Whaling Commission (IWC) placing a global moratorium on commercial whaling in 1986. (Japan, Norway and the Faroe Islands also have active whale hunts.) But there isn’t actually a strong market for whale meat among residents in Iceland, so most of the meat is sold to tourists or exported to Japan.

There’s actually a ban on the international trade of meat from endangered animals under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), which makes it illegal export fin whale meat to Japan. But it’s also illegal to trade hybrid animals, Feuerhahn explained.

Baleen of dead hybrid whale
The dark baleen of the whale, which helped identify the animal as a hybrid | Hard to Port

“We are pretty sure that meat from this hybrid and the following whale, which was a pregnant female fin whale … was mixed at the whaling station and carried to the freezing facility at the warehouse south of Reykjavik,” Feuerhahn said. “So that means that if no one is really following up on this, and the Icelandic government and the Icelandic authorities are not taking a closer look into this, meat from these very rare hybrids will be exported illegally to Japan.”

Boxes of whale meat in the back of a truck
Boxes of processed whale meat in the back of a truck | Hard to Port

While the killing of another hybrid whale is upsetting, Read points out that it’s outrageous any whales are being killed by Iceland — most of them have been endangered fin whales, and 14 have been pregnant females.

“The message we need to get out there is that every whale out there is an endangered whale,” Read said.

Boats dragging dead whales
An Icelandic harpoon ship dragging a dead fin whale and the second rare hybrid | Sea Shepherd UK

“The government of Iceland should now be taking a very serious and urgent look at the whaling activity that it is licensing,” Mark Simmonds, senior marine scientist at Humane Society International (HSI), told The Dodo. “Iceland unilaterally sets its own quotas (they are not approved by the International Whaling Commission or anyone else) and it kills intelligent, wide-ranging mammals that don’t belong to Iceland any more than they do to any other country whose waters they pass through. The whales’ large size combined with the use of exploding harpoons also raises major welfare concerns, and this whole activity is primarily about making money by shipping meat to the lucrative, luxury Japanese market.”

Harpoon used during whaling season
One of the harpoons used by the Icelandic whalers | Sea Shepherd UK

So far, the Icelandic whalers have killed a total 111 of whales, including the two hybrids. At this point, the Icelandic whalers are showing no signs of slowing down, and both Read and Feuerhahn believe the hunters will continue killing whales for as long as the weather allows them to take their boats out.

While Feuerhahn is disappointed by the lack of response from the Icelandic government on this issue, he feels positive about the interest from local Icelandic media.

Fin whale being dragged into whaling station
Two endangered fin whales being dragged into the whaling station | Hard to Port

“Every time we put out a press release, whether it’s about a revelation about a caught hybrid or the revelation of a female pregnant fin whale, they’re always really interested in what we have to say, and they’re basically taking all of our press releases and putting them out there,” Feuerhahn said. “So at least the Icelandic community gets the information about the hunts, and that’s something that they haven’t in the past few years. I take that as a positive change, and I also see ... a growing number of Icelandic people who feel that they need to speak up and they go to the whaling station to protest, to gather in front of the Icelandic parliament to protest. It’s a slow process, but there’s definitely a momentum.”

You can use your own voice to help end whaling in Iceland. Contact your local Icelandic embassy and politely voice your concerns about the country’s whaling program. You can also support efforts to document this year’s whaling season in Iceland by making a donation to Hard to Port or Sea Shepherd UK.