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Scottish-bound killer whales 'illegally slaughtered'

Scotland on Sunday - 24th February 2002


MORE than 20 killer whales on their way to Scottish waters have been illegally slaughtered in Greenland.

The animals were harpooned to death after finding themselves among an estimated 100 killer whales trapped by moving ice in Disko Bay, according to the British-based Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society.

The orcas - like those made famous by the film Free Willy - usually move in large family pods around the North Atlantic, visiting America, Greenland, Iceland, Norway and Scotland on their long trek. They reach Scotland in the spring and summer.

The Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society (WDCS) has said 24 of the animals have already been killed. Eight were slaughtered at Qasigiannguit by shrimp trawlers and a further eight are known to have been killed, 100km away at Aasiaat.

The whales' blubber has either been eaten by locals - despite warnings from the WDCS of a high level of contaminants - or fed to sledge dogs.

The WDCS believes that the slaughter breaches International Whaling Commission agreements which it said forbids the killing of orcas. A spokesman for the society said: "There is a good chance these whales were on their way to Scotland, where obviously they would not have been hunted. What has happened is appalling."

Greenland is allowed to kill 19 fin whales and more than 170 minke whales each year under an historical "aboriginal" licence which allows subsistence hunting.

But the WDCS believes other species including belugas and narwhals are also being hunted by the Danish dependency.

The International Whaling Commission is due to discuss Greenland's licence at its meeting in May. It is now appealing for people to contact Danish premier Anders Fogh Rasmussen and Greenland premier Jonathan Motzfeldt to urge them to put an end to the slaughter.

The WDCS spokesman said: "We believe the commission must scrutinise the extent to which Greenland tops up its official quota with hunts of small aquatic mammals which are not regulated by the International Whaling Commission and which may be both unsustainable and inhumane."

The WDCS has already accused Scottish fishermen of being involved in the death of over 2,200 porpoises last year.