Fin Whales Safe Off Iceland as Japanese Bureaucracy Snarls Hunts

Fin whales, the world’s second-largest mammal, can swim safely around Iceland’s shores this summer thanks to the dedication of the Japanese bureaucracy.

The Nordic country’s biggest whaling company, Hvalur hf, has been forced to halt its operations as it’s unable to deal with the demands of Japanese safety inspectors. The company was this season planning on catching as many as 155 fin whales, which can measure up to 27 meters (88 feet) and weigh about 70 metric tons.

Chief Executive Officer Kristjan Loftsson said he has suspended hunting because of Japan’s methods of probing for toxins or contaminants in whale meat and blubber.

“Sending products to Japan is like playing Russian roulette," Loftsson said in a telephone interview Friday. “They’re using a method which is so imprecise and so old -- a Stone Age method -- that it makes it impossible to know in advance what will come out of their research. And if they don’t like their findings, they simply destroy the product."

Hvalur exported 7.7 billion kronur ($60 million) worth of whale meat to Japan from 2010 through 2015, according Statistics Iceland data. In the face of international condemnation, the north Atlantic island resumed commercial whaling in 2006 after a 20-year hiatus. During the moratorium the island’s whale hunters still caught fin, sei and minke whales as a part of a scientific research program.

According to the WWF, the fin whale “has been severely impacted worldwide by commercial whaling.” The nature conservancy group estimates that about 750,000 animals were killed in areas of the Southern Hemisphere between 1904 and 1979, where they are now “rarely seen.”

“Their current status is unknown in most areas outside of the North Atlantic,” the WWF said on its website.

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