An animal welfare nightmare

The marine conservation organization Hard To Port has documented the landing of an adult fin whale yesterday, whose body had been hit by four harpoon shots. 

In the early morning hours of August 1st, catcher ship Hvalur 8 arrived with two fin whales tied to its starboard side at the whaling station in Hvalfjörður. The second animal in line for butchering, an adult male, quickly gained the attention of Hard To Port’s CEO Arne Feuerhahn. 

An adult male fin whale is pulled up the slipway with three visible harpoon shots to its body. A fourth harpoon was exposed during the butchering process.

Once this animal had been pulled out of the water, I documented a disturbing novelty in this year’s fin whale hunt, which my organization has monitored closely. This particular whale had three, mostly inaccurately fired harpoons, stuck in its body. One of the steel harpoons was heavily deformed – I assume this whale fought back for quite a while.” says Feuerhahn

Hvalur hf. staff members looked visibly irritated at the multiple harpoon strikes, before they started the flensing. Approximately half an hour into the process, a fourth harpoon emerged from the meat of the whale. It was later removed together with the internal organs.

A male fin whale lies on the processing deck of the whaling factory while Hvalur hf. staff start butchering the animal.
A Hvalur hf. staff member removes the first out of four harpoons from the body of the adult fin whale.

If we look at a previous study on the killing efficiency in the Icelandic fin whale hunt, which states that the average re-loading time for a 90 mm Kongsberg harpoon cannon is about 8 minutes , it gives us the sad certainty about the long and painful struggle this sentient animal had to go through.

The act on animal welfare states ‘that hunting must always be conducted in a manner that minimises the pain inflicted on the animals and the time needed to kill them‘ , the crew of the Hvalur 8 is doing the complete opposite. Feuerhahn continues.

As the animal was slowly cut apart in a several hour long process, two undetonated penthrite grenades became visible. A Hvalur hf. staff member used a special wrench to loosen the grenades and unscrewed both of the devices by hand afterwards. Both grenades were taken away by the worker. 

The marine conservation organization Hard To Port has documented several cases of mis- or inaccurately fired harpoons since the season started in mid-June. A number of malfunctioned penthrite grenades have also been revealed by the non-profit organisation. 

This new disturbing event emphasizes the importance of monitoring these hunts at sea, where they happen. If the company Hvalur hf. can not meet basic animal welfare standards during their hunts, which they obviously can’t, then they shouldn’t hold a license.” Feuerhahn concludes.

During the butchering process of an adult male fin whale a fourth harpoon was exposed after removing the internal organs.
This harpoon still had the undetonated penthrite grenade attached to it.
Workers remove the undetonated penthrite grenade from the harpoon and carry it away.

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Pregnant fin whale killed by commercial whalers

Two fin whales were landed by catcher ship Hvalur 8 at the whaling station in Hvalfjörður around midday yesterday. An adult female whale had two steel harpoons stuck in its body. One harpoon pierced the right pectoral fin of the animal and had an undetonated grenade still attached. The other harpoon struck the animal in its belly. 

The female animal is pulled up the slipway of the whaling station.
Hvalur hf. CEO looks down on the whale and misfired harpoons.

We have documented another case of an inaccurately fired harpoon during this year’s fin whale hunt. These cases seem to be no exception but quite common. It is also the third documented case of an undetonated penthrite grenade by our team. Without a doubt, this adult female experienced a lot of pain during the long killing process.”says Arne Feuerhahn, CEO of marine conservation organisation Hard To Port.

The adult female was pulled onto the processing deck where Hvalur hf. staff started to remove the grenade from the misfired harpoon.

Two official observers were present during the butchering of the second animal. After some of the meat, the lower jaw, skin and blubber of the animal had been removed, the internal organs of the animal were exposed. The observers showed special interest in the uterus of the adult female fin whale and demanded it to be cut open. An approximately one meter long whale fetus became visible despite efforts to block the unborn calf from the cameras of conservationists. Two younger Hvalur hf. workers were instructed to remove the exposed fin whale fetus. 

One of the harpoons pierced the right pectoral fin of the pregnant whale. The attached penthrite grenade did not explode.
Two observers demand Hvalur hf. staff to cut open one of the uterus horns. An approx. 1 mtr. whale fetus becomes visible.

Judging from the location and impact of the second harpoon, it seems possible that it not only killed the adult female whale but also her unborn calf. This is hard to witness and digest, even for those of us who have documented these activities for quite a while” says Feuerhahn.

I think we have collected enough evidence. There is no doubt that the hunting of these large marine mammals violates existing animal welfare regulations. Our footage speaks for itself and we are willing to provide it to the responsible authorities, if requested.” Feuerhahn concludes. 

The killing of pregnant fin whales in Iceland’s fin whale hunt was first documented and made public by conservation organisations, including Hard To Port, during the 2018 whaling season. The revelation made public and international news. 

Female fin whales usually produce one calf every 2-3 years. Calves are born after approx. 11 months of gestation.

Hvalur hf. staff removes that whale fetus.

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Conservationists call for suspension of whaling season

The landing of a female fin whale in the morning hours of July 19 has revealed another case of malfunctioning whaling equipment during this year’s hunting season. One of the whales that was brought to shore by catcher ship Hvalur 9 quickly gained the attention of conservationists who monitor the processing of the large marine mammals at the whaling station in Hvalfjörður.

“This is the second time in two weeks that our team has documented a case of an undetonated harpoon grenade. The gunner of the harpoon ship Hvalur 9 clearly failed to deliver a fatal first shot. A second harpoon penetrated the back of the animal. We have to assume that a second strike was necessary to end the animal’s prolonged suffering,” says Arne Feuerhahn, CEO of marine conservation organisation Hard To Port.

Grenade malfunction on female fin whale
Second harpoon inside whale

“In addition to the visible harpoon strikes, another, much smaller wound above the animal’s right pectoral fin raises questions. At first sight, it appears to be a bullet hole. We will get a second opinion on this before we can draw a conclusion,” Feuerhahn continues.

Hvalur hf. CEO and whaling protagonist Kristján Loftsson inspected the misfired first harpoon himself.

He unscrewed the harpoon grenade in the presence of some of his staff and took it aside.

Penthrite grenades need to detonate in the thorax, thoracic spine, neck or brain to ensure a quick or instant death of the animal.

If the device fails to explode, the harpoon cannon usually needs to be reloaded for an additional shot.

“We are witnessing and documenting obvious and repeated violations of the Animal Welfare Act. Our footage clearly indicates that not all whales are ‘killed quickly and painlessly’ during these hunts. We are calling on the Minister of Fisheries and Agriculture to suspend the hunting season until these cases can be properly investigated.” Feuerhahn states. 

The organisation Hard To Port has documented most of the fin whale landings of the 2022 season and has repeatedly pointed to evidence of irregularities that suggest that the whaling operations do not always comply with existing animal welfare regulations. On 4 July 2022, the first case of a dud grenade was documented and brought to the attention of the public and media. 

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Whaling station workers remove a harpoon with a failed penthrite grenade

Grenade malfunction confirms animal welfare concerns

The landing of a female fin whale in the afternoon of July 4th has confirmed concerns about animal welfare violations during Iceland’s whale hunt. 

One of the two animals that were caught by Hvalur 9 had a harpoon visibly stuck in its side. The harpoon with a malfunctioned penthrite grenade was quickly removed by workers of the whaling station. 

“The penthrite grenade is meant to detonate deep inside the animal to ensure an instantaneous death of the whale. Today’s documented case confirms that these devices seem to be unreliable. The TTD (Time to death) for this animal remains uncertain. A malfunctioned grenade rules out a quick death of the animal – it most likely went through a lot of suffering” says Arne Feuerhahn, CEO of marine conservation organisation Hard To Port. 

Penthrite grenades were developed to replace black powder grenades and were first used in Norway’s minke whale hunt. Later they were also introduced to Iceland’s fin whale hunt. 

Two dead female fin whales from 4th July 2022 lie in the water next to the whaling station in Hvalfjörður.
Icelandic whale catcher ship Hvalur 9 approaches the whaling station in Hvalfjörður with two female fin whales tied to its starboard side.

A study on the killing efficiency in the Icelandic fin whale hunt (2015) describes the effect of the explosive material as follows:

Penthrite has proven to be very efficient to render whales unconscious and/or dead almost instantly by producing pulses of shockand pressure waves that travel spherical (in all directions) at hypersonic speed causing severe damage to vital organs.”

 “We are only two weeks into the 2022 whaling season, which started on 22nd of June, and we have already witnessed and documented animals who had been harpooned twice, whales with their heads pierced by a harpoon and now this case of a dud grenade. How many whales have to suffer until the Icelandic government takes a closer look into these obvious animal welfare offenses?” Feuerhahn continues. 

“It seems commercial whalers here in Iceland get a free pass to everything. I would like to ask the Minister of Food, Fisheries and Agriculture Svandís Svavarsdóttir to monitor these operations and put them under scrutiny. Whales fascinate thousands of visitors here in Iceland, their presence secures lots of jobs and contributes to a thriving and profitable tourism sector. These animals need to be given some respect” Feuerhahn concludes. 

After the whale was processed in a several hour long procedure, the second animal followed in the late evening. 

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First fin whale killed in 2022

“Today is a sad day for whales and efforts to protect the oceans”, says Arne Feuerhahn of marine conservation organisation Hard To Port as he witnesses the first fin whale of the 2022 whaling season being landed at the processing factory in Iceland’s whale fjord. The harpoon ship Hvalur 9 returned on Friday morning with a male fin whale tied to its side.

“Sadly, we are witnessing the continuation of a wealthy person’s disturbing hobby – killing
sentient and precious marine wildlife for no good reason and in the most cruel way.

Both catcher ships are equipped with several heavy steel harpoons. Once a harpoon is fired into
the whale, an explosive tip is triggered that is supposed to guarantee an instantaneous death of
the animal. A study, however, shows that some animals suffer as long as 15 minutes once they
have been harpooned

Departure of Hvalur 9
Steel harpoons on deck of Hvalur 8

“Most people in Iceland know that whales are hunted, but they don’t know how they’re being
hunted. I believe this practice should be monitored, documented, and made visible to the public.
Visual footage of whaling is indubitably hard to look at, but it is an essential but missing puzzle
piece in an honest debate about the future of whaling”, Feuerhahn continues.

Shorty after Hvalur 9 returned to shore, factory workers started processing the animal.

It’s the first hunting season for Kristjan Loftsson’s whaling company Hvalur hf. since 2018. That
year, Icelandic whaling found itself in the international spotlight after footage emerged that
revealed the accidental killing of two rare hybrid whales (the crossbreed of blue and fin whales).

Earlier this year, the Icelandic Minister of Fisheries and Agriculture Svandís Svavarsdóttir publicly cast doubt on the renewal of whale hunting permits past 2023 – an announcement that was met with cautious optimism from conversation organisations and people around the world.

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