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Iceland to test whale meat before selling it

dpa German Press Agency
Published: Monday October 23, 2006

Reykjavik- The meat of the first whale caught in Icelandic waters since the North Atlantic nation resumed commercial whaling was to be tested for environmental pollutants before being sold, the head of Icelandic company Hvalur said Monday. Kristjan Loftsson, managing director of Hvalur, operator of the whaler that harpooned the 18-metre long fin whale Saturday off Iceland's west coast, said the tests were to be conducted at "independent laboratories in Europe" and "would likely take a few months."

"I don't expect anything dramatic to come of it," Loftsson told Deutsche Presse-Agentur dpa in a telephone interview about the tests that were for mercury and PCBs.

Pending that, the remainder of the meat and blubber from the whale that was landed Sunday at a whaling station near Reykjavik would be stored in a frozen condition.

The 10-man whaling crew left Sunday again, trying to benefit from reasonably fair weather conditions.

"Whaling is dependent on good weather and light," explained Loftsson, 63, who started as a mess boy at age 13.

The whale meat would likely be exported to Japan, but Norway and the Faeroe Islands were also options, Loftsson said, adding that he was confident there would be a market for the meat.

Iceland's 300,000 inhabitants were not a large enough market to sustain whaling.

Fisheries Minister Einar Kristinn Gudfinnsson announced last week that Iceland would resume commercial whaling and has set a quota of 30 minke whales and nine fin whales during the whale hunting season that lasts until next August.

Since 2003, Iceland has also conducted a scientific whale hunting programme. Of the scientific quota, 39 minke whales remain to be caught.

The Icelandic decision has been criticized by conservation groups and several governments, who fear that the move threatens a two- decade long moratorium on whale hunting.

Japan has, like Iceland, conducted scientific whale hunting under provisions offered by the International Whaling Commission (IWC) while Norway resumed whaling of minke whales, the smallest of the seven great whales, in 1993.

Minke whales are are up to 11 metres long, and can weigh about eight tons.

The fin whale is the second largest of the seven great whales. They are up to 24 metres long, and can weigh between 45 and 64 tons. The World Conservation Union (IUCN) has listed the fin whales on its red list of threatened species.

Joth Singh of the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) said in a statement that the hunt was "cruel and unnecessary," and the group had launched an e-mail protest campaign on its website.

© 2006 dpa German Press Agency