The largest creature ever to have lived on Earth is not a dinosaur but the amazing Blue Whale with the largest recorded being 30.5m long. That’s more than the length of 3 double decker buses.
There are 90 different species of whales “Cetacea” divided into two suborders (types): “mysticeti” (baleen whales such as the humpback whale) and “Odonotoceti” (toothed whales such as the sperm whale). UK Whales Species Guide.
Many of these magnificent creatures are now endangered.
- Blue whale (Antarctic)
- Gray whale (Northwest Pacific population)Atlantic population of gray whale became extinct in late 17th Century.
- Blue whale
- Fin whale
- North Pacific right whale
- North Atlantic right whale
- Sei whale
- Blue whale musculus subspecies – Atlantic population
- Sperm whale
Lower risk – Conservation Dependent
- Blue whale (North Pacific)
- Bowhead whale
- Gray whale Northeast Pacific population
- Southern right whale
Lower risk – Near threatened
Lower risk – Least concern
- Southern bottlenose whale
- Bowhead whale
- Humpback whale
- Melon-headed whale
- Gray whale (species)
Orkney, like many island and coastal communities was once heavily involved in the whaling industry – you just need to visit the Stromness Museum to see some of the tools of the trade. For a few owners of whaling vessels vast sums of money were made and large houses built on the fortunes accumulated. It was an extremely hard life for the men who worked the whaling vessels.
In 1937 an International Agreement for the Regulation of Whaling was produced as concern began to grow about over hunting. This was then replaced with The International Convention for the Regulation of Whaling in 1946. This is overseen by The International Whaling Commission.
Map of Countries signed up to the International Convention for the Regulation of Whaling
The UK was one of the earliest signatories to the convention. The Convention does not prohibit whaling but issues a schedule which nations are supposed to adhere to.
The 2016 schedule states:
“It is forbidden to take or kill any fin whales below 57 feet (17.4 metres) in length in the Southern Hemisphere, and it is forbidden to take or kill fin whales below 55 feet (16.8 metres) in the Northern Hemisphere; except that fin whales of not less than 55 feet (16.8 metres) may be taken in the Southern Hemisphere for delivery to land stations and fin whales of not less than 50 feet(15.2metres) may be taken in the Northern Hemisphere for delivery to land stations, provided that, in each case the meat of such whales is to be used for local consumption as human or animal food.”
A commercial whaling company has restarted in Iceland. The meat from the endangered fin whale is not sold in Iceland (see paragraph above) but sold to Japan. For 2 years there was a halt to whaling because the whale meat did not adhere to Japanese food standards. The Hvalur hf (Whale Inc. ) company has 2 whaling vessels. This is the only commercial whaling company in Iceland.
Numbers of whales killed in Iceland for commercial purposes
2015: 155 endangered fin whales and 29 minke whales
2014: 137 endangered fin whales and 24 minkes.
2013: 134 endangered fin whales and 38 minke whales.
The minke whale is hunted in Iceland and also Norway and Japan.
The consumption of whale meat in Iceland is mainly by tourists.
Whale watching in Iceland
Like many places whale watching is becoming increasingly popular in Iceland. There are several companies running tours. You can find lots of information about whale watching in Iceland at: IceWhale where it says “Meet us don’t eat us”. They also have a Facebook page
For people visiting Iceland there is a great opportunity to see these magnificent creatures alive and in their natural habitat rather than looking at a slab of one on your plate in a fancy restaurant.
Reporter: Fiona Grahame