Whales ‘die in agony’ as Icelandic grenade harpoons skewer them but fail to explode

‘We are witnessing the cruel deaths of ocean giants that are our allies in the fight against climate breakdown,’ says conservationist

Jane Dalton
Thursday 04 August 2022 15:34 BST
Whalers used four harpoon shots on an adult male fin whale
Whalers used four harpoon shots on an adult male fin whale (Arne Feuerhahn / Hard To Port )

Whales have been dying in agony, say conservationists, after being harpooned with grenades that failed to explode inside them.

Icelandic whalers used the weapons on what experts said was an “alarming” number of fin whales, dragging them ashore as they were slowly succumbing to their wounds.

Photographs taken at a whaling station show one with “an extraordinary four harpoons in his body”, according to conservationists.

It’s thought six fin whales – the second-largest whale species – have been targeted this way in recent weeks, out of around 60 hunted by Iceland this summer.

Experts said they were killed “in the most agonising way” and would have suffered for a prolonged period.

Grenade-tipped harpoons failed to explode when fired into fin whales.

“The use of the harpoons is cruel enough but at least four fin whales in the past three weeks alone have been documented with unexploded charges lodged in their bodies,” said a spokesman for Whale and Dolphin Conservation. Since then, two more have been seen suffering in the same way, according to the Sea Shepherd organisation.

If grenades containing the explosive penthrite detonate inside the animal, they ensure a quick or instant death, but if they do not, whalers then reload the harpoon cannon for another shot. This takes about eight minutes and significantly prolongs the whale’s torment, according to the WDC.

“It is a welfare nightmare,” said a charity spokesperson.

Sea Shepherd said: “These majestic giants of the seas will be butchered and sent for export to Japan where they may end up in restaurants, as pet food or dog chews (as was discovered in 2013), and some may sit in freezers until it is eventually thrown away years later.”

It added that the hunts were not for or by Iceland as a country but by whalers themselves.

Arne Feuerhahn, head of marine conservation organisation Hard To Port, said the whale that had been harpooned four times had endured a prolonged death.

The animals were dragged ashore
The animals were dragged ashore (Arne Feuerhahn / Hard To Port )

“The shooter clearly failed to fire a fatal first shot. A second harpoon penetrated into the back. We must assume that a second shot was necessary to end the long suffering of the whale,” he said.

“The fact that whalers are unable to cause a quick death for the whales illustrates the cruelty of industrial whaling,” said Astrid Fuchs, of WDC.

“While we experience the dramatic effects of global warming in recent days, we are also witnessing the cruel deaths of ocean giants that are our allies in the fight against climate breakdown.”

Whales’ bodies absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.

In 2019, Icelandic authorities announced plans to kill more than 2,000 whales over five years.

And earlier this year, and Icelandic minister hinted the country could end whaling in 2024.

A survey in the UK, Germany and Denmark by OnePoll this year found nearly two-thirds of people would support government action against or boycotts of countries killing dolphins and whales.

In the UK, more than three-quarters of consumers – 76 per cent – said they would either support or strongly support the UK government taking economic and/or diplomatic action.

A similar number said they would support or strongly support the UK government making it a standard condition in trade agreements that other European countries must not hunt whales or dolphins.

Campaigners have been lobbying the government to halt trade with the Faroe Islands over their repeated mass slaughter of dolphins.

Faroes islanders enraged public opinion last week by killing 100 bottlenose dolphins. The body of another was later discovered, making it a record toll.

The Independent has asked the whaling company to comment.

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