Harpooned Whales Can Take Hours to Die

An Icelandic survey of mortally wounded whales found evidence of suffering
By Steve Huff,  Newser Staff
Posted May 9, 2023 3:29 PM CDT
Harpooned Whales Can Take Hours to Die
A North Atlantic right whale surfaces, revealing the unique markings on its underside, in Cape Cod Bay in Massachusetts.   (AP Photo/Robert F. Bukaty, NOAA permit # 21371)

A report by the Icelandic Food and Veterinary Authority found harpooned whales sometimes took a distressingly long time to die during hunts, with some suffering for up to two hours, per the Guardian. The report, published in the Icelandic language, found that almost 40% of whales struggled for over 11 minutes before dying. Two took more than an hour. A quarter of the whales were harpooned twice. Just 59% died instantly. The report, which Iceland's minister of food agriculture and fisheries Svandís Svavarsdóttir described as alarming, has raised concerns about the humane treatment of whales during hunts in Iceland.

Staff from the Norwegian Food Agency (MAST) rode along on the whale hunts and found that 36 out of the 148 whales had to be shot more than once. Five whales took three shots, four whales were reportedly shot four times. MAST believes some whales took far too long to die and are trying to determine whether this violated animal welfare laws. According to the Icelandic report, they do believe whale hunters used the best methods available, so no rules were technically broken. The Guardian quoted Svavarsdóttir, who said in part that the report "underscores the need for a discussion in Iceland about the values we want to be known for." In the past, Svavarsdóttir indicated Iceland would cease whaling by 2024.

The environmental advocacy group Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) reports that during the 20th century alone, up to 2.9 million whales were killed for commercial purposes, leading to a catastrophic decline in global whale populations. And despite a moratorium since 1982, some countries, including Japan, Norway, and Iceland, continue to engage in commercial whaling. Senior director of the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW), Patrick Ramage, told the Guardian that "both Icelanders and the international community will be horrified by these findings. No animal—however it is killed—should suffer for such a long time. Whales are sentient, intelligent and complex creatures that suffer both physically and psychologically during this traumatic massacre." (More whales stories.)

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