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17th of July 2018

International



Rare whale harpooned 'by mistake' - but company say it could happen again

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The boss of a company accused of killing the first blue whale in 50 years insisted the animal was actually a rare hybrid.

Kristján Loftsson, one of Iceland’s richest men, said it was a male cross between a fin whale and a blue whale.

‘We have had at least five of these, not this year but in the past,’ he told Metro.co.uk. ‘I think the last time was in 2014.

‘It’s impossible to see in the ocean if it’s a hybrid or a fin. When you have caught it, you realise.

He defended his staff posing for photos with the rare whale, including one man seen sitting on its back.

‘They do that all the time,’ he said. ‘Maybe they found it special. You know, take a photo on a special occasion. If you go fishing, you take a photo with the catch.’

Rare whale harpooned 'by mistake' - but company say it could happen again One of the crew posed for a photo sitting on it (Picture: Sea Shepherd Global) First blue whale killed by commercial whalers in over 50 years METRO GRAB taken from: https://www.seashepherdglobal.org/latest-news/iceland-kills-blue-whale/ Credit: Sea Shepherd Global Photos show the huge animal lying dead on the ground (Picture: Sea Shepherd Global)

Iceland permits the slaughter of fin whales despite an international moratorium on whaling, but does not allow blue whales to be hunted.

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Mr Loftsson, who owns whaling company Hvalur, said it wasn’t his intention to kill any rare hybrids but said there was no way of stopping it.

‘It’s impossible to tell the difference, until afterwards,’ he said. ‘We go after it and shoot it and then we find out. It could happen again. I don’t know how many there are in these waters.’

Kristjan Loftsson, Icelandic fishing magnate, holds a box of frozen whale meat destined for the Japan market during a Bloomberg Television interview at the Hvalfjordur whaling station, operated by Hvalur HF, in Hvalfjordur, Iceland, on Monday, Aug. 10, 2015. Iceland, along with Norway, has chosen to opt out of the International Whaling Commissions moratorium on whale hunting. Photographer: Arnaldur Halldorsson/Bloomberg via Getty Images Caption: Kristjan Loftsson, Icelandic fishing magnate, holds a box of frozen whale meat (Picture: Getty) Kristjan Loftsson, Icelandic fishing magnate, pauses during a Bloomberg Television interview near the whaling ship 'Hvalur 9 in Hvalfjordur, Iceland, on Monday, Aug. 10, 2015. Iceland, along with Norway, has chosen to opt out of the International Whaling Commissions moratorium on whale hunting. Photographer: Arnaldur Halldorsson/Bloomberg via Getty Images He denied his company had killed a blue whale (Picture: Getty)

He said they had previously caught a hybrid female which was pregnant with a foetus, something which was ‘unheard of’.

DNA has been taken from the whale caught this week which will be tested to find out for sure what it is, he said, but it had already been chopped up for meat as if it were a fin whale.

‘We often see blue whales and we leave them,’ he said.

‘We have never caught a blue since they were protected in 1959.’

First blue whale killed by commercial whalers in over 50 years METRO GRAB taken from: https://www.seashepherdglobal.org/latest-news/iceland-kills-blue-whale/ Credit: Sea Shepherd Global Experts claim it is a blue whale (Picture: Sea Shepherd Global) First blue whale killed by commercial whalers in over 50 years METRO GRAB taken from: https://www.seashepherdglobal.org/latest-news/iceland-kills-blue-whale/ Credit: Sea Shepherd Global It was then chopped up for meat (Picture: Sea Shepherd Global)

He said he was not concerned by criticism of the catch from environmental groups, claiming: ‘It doesn’t matter to me – they are against everything.’

The company allows people to watch from behind a fence when they bring whales to shore.

‘We did that on purpose for tourists to watch the flenching,’ he said. ‘We are operating in the open. We are not hiding anything.’

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Dr Phillip Clapham, from the NOAA Alaska Fisheries Science Centre, said: ‘While I can’t entirely rule out the possibility that this is a hybrid, I don’t see any characteristics that would suggest that.

‘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.’

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