'Endangered blue whale' harpooned off Iceland coast
An Icelandic whaling company has been accused of slaughtering an endangered blue whale in a "deplorable act", provoking anger and condemnation from the international marine conservationist community.
Animal rights campaigners who photographed the whale's carcass, say it was harpooned and killed off the west coast of Iceland on July 8.
Genetic sampling has been conducted to establish the species, with experts unable to rule out the possibility it could be a rare blue/fin whale hybrid.
Kristján Loftsson, the multi-millionaire CEO of Hvalur hf whaling company, said he was "pretty confident" tests would confirm the animal was a hybrid species and not a blue whale.
"This whale, when you see it swimming in the ocean, it was like a fin whale," he explained.
"There were no characteristics of a blue whale, it is very easy to tell a blue whale in the ocean.
"They go after it as a fin whale. When they shoot it and take it alongside the vessel, they noticed the ventral grooves, which you don't see when the whale is swimming in the ocean. This is what we have had with other hybrids in the past.
"It was taken as a fin whale, but it [will] turn out to be a hybrid. I'm pretty confident."
The last case of a blue whale being deliberately captured and killed was recorded 40 years ago off the coast of Spain.
Commercial whaling has been banned since 1986 under the a moratorium issued by the International Whaling Commission (IWC), however in Iceland the government regulates the hunting of whales having expressed reservations about its prohibition.
Dr Peter Richardson, head of Ocean Recovery at the Marine Conservation Society, said he believed the animal is a blue whale after analysing the photos.
"This is a deplorable act - the blue whale, the largest animal ever to grace our planet - is endangered and protected under all relevant international agreements," he said.
Dr Phillip Clapham, one of the world's leading experts on large whales from the NOAA Alaska Fisheries Science Centre, agreed it was a blue whale photographed at the whaling station.
The blue whale is the largest animal on the planet and weighs up to 200 tonnes, the equivalent of 33 elephants, with a heart approximately the size of a Volkswagen car.
The government of Iceland confirmed that "blue whales are protected under Icelandic law with their capture prohibited".
"The matter is taken seriously by the government and the relevant authorities are investigating this issue," it said in a statement. (© Daily Telegraph, London)