Environmental campaigners have hit out at the killing of an endangered fin whale by an Icelandic whaler for the first time in several years.
The arrival of the vessel in Hvalfjordur, Iceland, with the harpooned fin whale strapped to its side was marked with a protest by around 40 people, most of them Icelanders, the International Fund for Animal Welfare (Ifaw) said.
The Icelandic government has set quotas for catching 154 fin whales for this year, after a two-year hiatus in catching the species because of problems with the export market to Japan in the wake of the devastating earthquake and tsunami there.
Campaigners called for an end to the "brutal" and "dying" industry of catching fin whales in Icelandic waters for export to Japan, and the catching of minke whales for a domestic and tourist market, claiming whale watching had more economic benefits. According to Ifaw, Iceland attracted 175,000 whale watchers last year.
Robbie Marsland, UK director of Ifaw, said: "It is a very sad day seeing these images and knowing that this endangered animal has suffered a cruel death, only to be cut up for meat that nobody needs.
"We urge the Icelandic government to listen to its whale watching and tourism operators and many members of the public both within and outside Iceland and recognise that slaughtering whales is uneconomic as well as inhumane. Whale watching brings greater benefit to coastal communities."
John Sauven, executive director of Greenpeace UK, said: "Whaling is brutal and cruel and belongs to a bygone era, not the 21st century.
"It is deeply regrettable that a single Icelandic whaler backed by the government is undermining the global ban on commercial whaling which is there to secure the future of the world's whales.
"Iceland is a member of the International Whaling Commission (IWC) and has a duty to abide by its global agreements instead of taking this unilateral decision to resume whaling which is dishonest and unacceptable."