Icelandic whalers are facing criticism after slaying a rare blue whale hybrid, just weeks after harpooning a pregnant crossbreed female by mistake.
Video footage showing a large whale being hauled up onto a whaling station and carved into by whalers was captured by a marine conservation charity last week.
The whaling company ‘Hvalur hf’ holds a licence to kill a limited number of fin whales, which is the second largest animal on the planet after the blue whale and also an endangered species.
However, expert marine biologists have confirmed that the video shows a rare hybrid – a cross between a blue whale and a fin whale – of which only five have been recorded in the past 35 years
Whalers at work: Icelandic workers carve through the thick skin of a rare blue whale-fin whale hybrid killed in the waters off the Icelandic coast last week
‘Hvalur hf’ holds a licence to kill 161 fin whales each year, and the whale seen in the video was one of two brought in to the Miðsandur whaling station in Hvalfjörður last week – number 98 and 99 of this year’s hunting season.
The footage shows the hybrid whale, number 99, being winched out of the water and washed before whalers get to work on cutting the animal up. The other whale brought in, a fin whale, was found to be pregnant.
The Icelandic hunting of fin whales has often been criticised, as the species – while still not at risk to the same extent as the blue whale – is thought to have a global population of between 50,000-90,000, according to the World Wildlife Foundation.
Blue whales were almost hunted to extinction in the last century and there are only 10,000 to 25,000 left alive. The species is now protected.
Hvalur hf, owned by multi-millionaire Kristján Loftsson, caused uproar mid-July, when it was revealed it had killed a pregnant blue-fin whale hybrid, reportedly by mistake.
The whale has been dragged into the carving dock, which is surrounded by whale bones and cut up meat form another whale
Preparation work: Whalers are seen measuring the dead blue whale-fin whale hybrid before it is carved up
Butchering: Whalers are seen carving into the whale’s thick blubber and pulling away its fin using a chain and a winch
Shocking photographs showed the crossbreed whale being butchered, and whalers dragging the bloodied remains of the foetus along the seafront.
Both sets of images were captures by Sea Shepherd, an international marine wildlife conservation non-profit.
The charity told MailOnline that DNA tests had been carried out on the most recent killing, whale number 99, by marine biologists working for the Icelandic government, which had confirmed that it had indeed been a hybrid.
Sea Shepherd chief operating officer Rob Read said: ‘Over 100 of the second largest animals ever to have existed on our planet have now been cruelly harpooned, some harpooned more than once, and over a dozen of which were pregnant.
‘It is unbelievable that the killing of any endangered whales, let alone pregnant mothers, is allowed by Iceland – or tolerated by the international community.
‘Our crew has had to endure the horrifying sights and smells of the operations of this whaling company run by Icelandic multi-millionaire Kristján Loftsson since the season began in June.
‘Should this rogue company be granted a whaling permit by the Icelandic government next year, Sea Shepherd will be forced to escalate our campaign to end this madness.’
Big business: ‘Hvalur hf’, a company owned by one of Iceland’s richest men, holds a licence to kill 161 fin whales – like the one pictured – each hunting season,
Brutal: This image shows the remains of a pregnant hybrid whale killed by the same company last month, with whalers dragging away the dead foetus
Loftsson later defended himself, saying neither the hybrid nor the fin whale were protected species under Icelandic law.
Marine conservation experts believe that blue whale-fin whale hybrids are not very common in the waters off Iceland, and are even more rare than blue whales.
Astrid Fuchs, from the charity Whale and Dolphin Conservation, said: ‘Since 1983, they’ve only recorded five of these rare hybrids.
‘Four of them have been killed by whalers and one is a very beloved whale watching object and is still alive – they are very rare.’
Marine conservation experts believe that blue whale-fin whale hybrids, like this one caught last month, are not very common in the waters off Iceland, and are even more rare than blue whales
Also at risk: The fin whale, is the second largest animal on the planet after the blue whale and is also an endangered species, with some 50,000 – 90,000 animals left in the world according to the WWF
Crew members then took turns posing for photo straddling its back, with three having their photo taken at this moment
Elisa Allen, director of animal rights organisation PETA, added: ‘Seeing these gentle giants hacked to pieces to satisfy human greed should make any decent person feel sick.
‘Whales killed for their flesh suffer greatly for many hours after being shot with rifles and explosive harpoons, before finally dying in agony.
‘Anyone rightly outraged by these photos must not only denounce whaling but also shun the fishing industry, since countless whales, dolphins and other marine animals die each year as ‘by-catch’ when they become caught in fishing nets.’