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Iceland Mag

Animals

More fin and humpback whales, fewer minke whales by Iceland

By Staff

  • Into the deep Recently concluded counts show that the numbers of fin whales and humback whales around Iceland have grown, while the  numbers of minke whales have shrunk. Photo/Vilhelm Gunnarsson.

A comprehensive count of whales in the North Atlantic shows that there have been significant changes in the numbers and distribution of whales around Iceland.

Significant changes in the past 20 years
The counts, which are conducted by scientists and vessels from Iceland, Norway, Greenland and the Faeroe Islands, cover the area from western coast of Greenland, the ocean around Iceland and the Faeroe Islands to the coasts of Norway. The area encompasses most of the summer feeding grounds of great whales in the Northern Atlantic. The counts have been done periodically since 1987, in 1989, 1995, 2001 and 2007. Their results show that significant changes have occurred in the  number and distribution of whales in the area.

The Icelandic Marine Research Institute reports that the count around Iceland shows significant increases in the numbers of fin whales and humpback whales in Icelandic waters. At the same time, however, the numbers of minke whales around Iceland and in shallow waters have dropped significantly.

A total of 14 different species of whales were spotted during the count: Blue whales, fin whales, sei whales, minke whales, humpback whales, sperm whales, bottlenose whales, orca, pilot whales, Atlantic white sided dolphins, striped dolphin, beaked whales and harbour porpoise.

Both minke whales and fin whales are caught by Icelandic whalers. Most of the fin whale products are exported to Japan, while minke whale meat is consumed locally. Many local restaurants serve minke whale meat. In 2014 Icelandic whalers caught 24 minke whales and 137 fin whales. Humpback whales have not been caught since the mid-20th century.

A controversial commission
The count is performed under the auspices of the North Atlantic Marine Mammal Commission NAMMCO an international body for cooperation on the conservation, management and study of marine mammals in the North Atlantic, formed in 1992 by Iceland, Norway, Greenland and the Faroe Islands. The commission was formed as Iceland, Norway, Greenland and the Faroe Islands refused to accept the decision of the International Whaling Commission, IWC, to place a moratorium on whaling. Countries which are opposed to whaling refuse to recognize the right of NAMMCO to manage the whale stocks of the North Atlantic.

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