Icelandic Whalers Accused of Illegally Killing Protected Blue Whale

An image taken by a conservation group shows an Icelandic company processing a killed whale. Hard To Port

Conservation groups have accused Icelandic whalers this week of killing a rare and protected blue whale.

Photographs taken by the anti-whaling nonprofit Hard To Port show what could be a blue whale, harpooned and killed. The whaling company accused of killing the blue whale, Kvalur hf, has denied any wrongdoing. The blue whale is protected both by Icelandic and international law.

"This is an unacceptable tragedy that leaves people around the world speechless," Hard To Port CEO Arne Feuerhahn told Newsweek in a statement. "It is very unfortunate that the reckless and irresponsible actions of a single individual stain the reputation of this progressive and beautiful country."

Hard To Port said that the whale could be a blue whale or a rare hybrid of a fin and blue whale and called the killing a mistake in a statement. Iceland allows hunting of smaller fin whales, despite an international moratorium on commercial whaling established by the International Whaling Commission.

Sea Shepherd, another conservation group, claimed Wednesday that the dead whale was a blue whale as evidenced by experts they've spoken to and experience with the world's largest animal.

"I have viewed plenty of blue whales on the surface, dived with them beneath the surface in West Australia, off the coast of California, in the Southern Ocean and in the waters off Newfoundland," Sea Shepherd's founder Paul Watson said in a statement. "I know a blue whale when I see one and this whale slaughtered by Kristján Loftsson [Hvalur's CEO] is a blue whale."

Watson's group alleged that the whale killed Saturday was the 22nd whale killed by the company this whaling season.

Loftsson pushed back against the accusations.

"I am absolutely confident that it's a hybrid," said Loftsson, according to the BBC. "To mistake a blue whale for a fin whale is impossible, this whale has all the characterizations of a fin whale in the ocean. There are a lot of blue whales off the Iceland coast, when we see the blows and sail to it, and we realize it is a blue and then we leave it and go and look for fin whales."

The Icelandic government is investigating the incident and in a statement provided to The Daily Telegraph said it cannot yet say what the animal is.

"At present, Icelandic authorities are not in a position to confirm the species, although initial information from the directorate of fisheries in Iceland suggests the animal caught is not likely to be a blue whale but rather a hybrid of a fin whale and a blue whale. This will only be confirmed once a DNA analysis has been concluded," the statement read.