By Iwona, in Iceland
"We are back in business with about 100 tons of excellent eco-friendly whale meat and blubber ready for the market.", said Kristjan Loftsson to the Telegraph, after concluding his first commercial whale hunt in Iceland in late October, 2006.
The Icelandic one-man-show is back again. Kristjan Loftsson and his rotting whale business (Hvalur hf) has made waves, this time in the Icelandic newspapers. As I sip on my hot tea, I skim through Skessuhorn, a local paper in Borgarnes, a small town about 80 km west from Reykjavik. Inside, on page 4, I see a picture of a cluster of men in orange around a dead and gutted fin whalein a rusty whaling station, an archive photo of the Loftsson hunt in late October, 2006. With the help of my Icelandic friends, I read the headline: "One-third to one-half of the whale catch is buried".
This very headline initiated a spiral of events last week, which eventually led me here, all the way to Iceland. We (Frode, Martin, Ulvar and Iwona) are in Reykjavik to investigate the sensless, inefficient, and highly unsustainable practice of whaling.
Two weeks ago, Icelandic media reported that Loftsson dumped 179 tons of whale remains at a landfill site in late October/ early November, about 24 km west from Borgarnes (this news seems to have escaped the international media radar, and is still only known to a few local Icelanders). Earlier in 2006, Icelandic Government awarded Loftsson, a commercial quota of nine fin whales. He landed seven, with the total catch estimated at 350 tons. Now, three months later, nearly half of this potentially toxic catch, lies under half a meter of soil, 1.5 meters deep, in an area of 150 square meters.
A few days ago, we spoke to the landfill manager, who indicated that each approved waste requires documentation of testing, and waste which is not tested is not accepted to the landfill. The facility manager also stated that the whale scraps were tested for toxicity, albeit not by the waste facility. Interestingly not even the Marine Research Institute was aware of such tests. In addition, this testing claim cannot be sustained because the whale meat Loftsson extracted, is still in freezers, and still awaiting toxicity tests results. Marine Research Institute did not test the whales because Loftsson's hunt was commercial and not "scientific".The government is not taking responsibility. Not surprisingly, we were denied access for sampling.
It is indeed sad that a "sustainable" whale hunt would necessitate dumping nearly half the whale catch, which has not been tested for toxicity levels. Lack of testing before dumping, could potentially become hazardous as waste drainage seeps into the ground contaminating soil and groundwater. The Norwegians for example, dump blubber out to sea because of toxicity, but also because they know there is no demand for whale products (Japan does not want to import from either Norway nor Iceland).
While nagging and digging for the truth, we made a crucial discovery. It is estimated that the product yield from the whales, was not 100 tons as the media reports initially suggested, but in fact at least double that, about 200 tons. The blubber has not been disposed of at the landfill, even though the whaling ship captain admitted that some of the whales are "not suitable for human consumption". Frankly, according to spectators during the interview late October last year, the captain went as far as saying that some of the whales are "only good for cat food, but the Japanese eat it anyway". Two Icelandic national television channels, also caught the capitain saying that some of the landed whales are "not good enough for the home market" but good enough for the Japanese. So, apparently, the Japanese eat degenerating and potentially toxic whales, half the 2006 catch is left to rotting at a dump site, and despite lack of market demand for whale products, 200 tons of meat and blubber await export to Japan. In the meantime, the Japanese government gets ready for yet another hunt in the Southern Oceans whale sanctuary, having 4,400 tons of whale meat surplus already. It just does not make sense.
There are still many more questions to ask, as we are waiting for answers. But after a few conversations I had with the locals, I can say this: Icelanders and the government may always support whaling in principle, due to their cultural tradition of utilising whale resources, but increasingly, they view whaling as unnecessary. Many individuals on the domestic arena question Loftsson's stubborn and greedy hunt, asking "Why is he doing that? We just don't understand".
- Iwona and the team, reporting from Iceland