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Iceland shipment to Japan could contain meat from rare hybrid whales

ISHINOMAKI: Conservation and animal protection organisations are calling on the Japanese Government to prove that a shipment of Icelandic whale products that arrived in Ishinomaki, Japan, yesterday does not include illegally imported meat from hybrid blue-fin whales.

The Icelandic Hvalur whaling company has slaughtered 145 endangered fin whales and two very rare hybrid blue-fin whales in 2018, in defiance of the International Whaling Commission’s (IWC) international ban on commercial whaling. Iceland justifies its self-allocated whaling quotas through its disputed reservation to the ban.

The trade in fin whale products from Iceland to Japan is technically legal because both countries have reservations to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) Appendix I listing which prohibits commercial trade in fin whales and its parts and products. However, Japan does not have a reservation to the CITES Appendix I listing for blue whales and is therefore prohibited from importing blue-fin hybrid whale products. Notably, Japan is already violating the CITES Appendix I listing for sei whales, which are killed in its “special permit” whaling hunts and illegally imported into the country from the high seas for commercial purposes.

Hvalur has stated that the company has no plans to export meat and blubber from hybrid whales and Japanese officials have acknowledged that the products cannot be legally imported. However, conservationists on the ground have raised concerns that Hvalur did not separate the meat and blubber of the hybrid whales from the fin whales. The Icelandic Government has not commented on whether the company followed the appropriate procedures to verify that no hybrid products were included in the exports.

Last month, the Azure Coast (formerly the Winter Bay) left Iceland carrying 1,500 tonnes of whale meat and blubber to Japan, via the North-East Passage. This is the fourth consecutive year this vessel has been commissioned to transport whale meat to Japan. Japan recently relaxed its regulations regarding whale meat imports, making it easier for both Icelandic and Norwegian whalers to export their products.

“It is unfortunate that Japan’s import requirements for whale meat have been weakened at the exact moment when more oversight and greater transparency is needed to ensure that potentially illegal whale meat and blubber from protected whales, including blue-fin hybrids, are not entering the Japanese market,” said Kate O’Connell, marine wildlife consultant for the Animal Welfare Institute.

Vanessa Williams-Grey, policy manager at WDC, Whale and Dolphin Conservation, added: “There is valid concern that the meat and blubber from the hybrid whales were not properly separated. Given the current deafening silence from the Icelandic authorities on this issue, the onus is on the Japanese authorities to confirm that this shipment does not contain illegally imported blue-fin whale hybrid meat.”

The recent biennial meeting of the IWC strongly rejected Japan’s proposal to resume commercial whaling, instead agreeing to an alternative vision for the 70-year old body that focuses on the recovery of cetacean populations, nonlethal management issues and conservation.

Clare Perry, Ocean Campaign Leader at the Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) said: “Japan is already in hot water with CITES over its illegal trade in sei whales hunted in the North Pacific. The inability of Icelandic whalers to distinguish rare blue-fin hybrid whales from fin whales further demonstrates that this industry cannot be adequately managed. We are requesting full transparency from Japan on the steps they are taking to ensure that this recent shipment does not contain meat or blubber from rare blue-fin hybrid whales.”

“Iceland and Japan continue to defy the IWC and CITES decisions related to whale slaughter and trade in whale products,” O’Connell added. “The arrival of this massive Icelandic whale meat shipment comes only days after Japan’s whaling fleet departed for the Antarctic, where it will kill more than 300 minke whales for ‘science’.”



  • Marjorie Fishman, Animal Welfare Institute, margie[at]
  • Danny Groves, WDC, Whale and Dolphin Conservation, danny.groves[at]
  • Clare Perry, Environmental Investigation Agency, clareperry[at]



  1. The Animal Welfare Institute is a nonprofit charitable organization founded in 1951 and dedicated to reducing animal suffering caused by people. AWI engages policymakers, scientists, industry, and the public to achieve better treatment of animals everywhere—in the laboratory, on the farm, in commerce, at home, and in the wild. For more information, visit Follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram for updates and other important animal protection news.
  2. WDC, Whale and Dolphin Conservation, is the leading global charity dedicated to the conservation and protection of whales and dolphins. We defend these remarkable creatures against the many threats they face through campaigns, lobbying, advising governments, conservation projects, field research and rescue.
  3. The Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) investigates and campaigns against environmental crime and abuse.