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Icelandic whalers give media the slip

21st August 2003


By Gleb Bryanski

REYKJAVIK (Reuters) - It can't be
easy to hide a dead whale, but Icelandic
whalers returning to the hunt this week
after 14 years have so far kept their
catch of two minke whales from the
prying eyes of the media and

"If I go south I'll tell you I went north,
if I go north I'll tell you I went south,"
whaling skipper Gunnar Johannsson
told Reuters over the telephone.

Journalists used boats, planes and
helicopters to chase the three ships
but authorities introduced a one-mile
exclusion zone around each one citing
safety concerns about explosive

Reuters Photo

"These are heavy duty weapons we're talking about and we are taking no chances with people's safety," Johann Sigurjonsson of the Marine Research Institute heading the project said. Whalers were instructed not to fire in the presence of journalists.

The hunt for 38 minkes is a part of what Iceland says is scientific research on the impact of whales on fish stocks. The International Whaling Committee banned commercial whaling in 1986 with seven of 13 great whale species endangered. Iceland gave up whaling in 1989 under international pressure.

But a loophole permits "scientific" whaling and Iceland now plans to catch 100 of the small minke whales, 100 of the larger fin whales and 50 of the large sei whales annually.

It hopes to export the meat and blubber to Japan, which also uses the "scientific" loophole. Norway defies the ban while some indigenous peoples in Greenland, Siberia and the U.S. state of Alaska are allowed traditional "subsistence" whaling.

Iceland's return to whaling has created an outcry and the United States, with which the NATO member has a 52-year-old defence treaty, is talking of a trade embargo.

The secretive hunt began on Sunday when the Sigurdbjorg sneaked out of Reykjavik harbour under cover of darkness.

The first minke killed was processed at sea and when the ship got back to port all there was to see was a clean deck and two plastic crates. But one photographer snapped the crew cutting up the whale and the skipper brandishing its heart.

"We wanted to have our camera crew onboard of one of the whaling vessels but did not get permission," Elin Hirst, head of news at the Icelandic television RUV, told Reuters.

"If they are so sure about what they are doing here why are they trying to prevent cameras from filming it?" said Gill Sanders of the U.S.-based International Fund for Animal Welfare.

Polls show many of Iceland's 290,000 people support whaling. High prices for fish have given them some of the highest incomes in Europe and many consider whales a threat to fish stocks.