Conservation Groups Denounce Icelandic Attempts to Ship Whale Meat Through Russian Waters

© Marcel & Ruud Coster

Washington, DC—WDC, Whale and Dolphin Conservation and the Animal Welfare Institute (AWI) have discovered that, in the latest desperate effort to prop up a dying industry, Hvalur hf, Iceland’s fin whaling company, has joined forces with Aquaship, a shipping company with a troubling record, to transport meat from endangered fin whales through Russian waters to Japan.

The Winter Bay, chartered by notorious Icelandic whaler Kristján Loftsson, the CEO of Hvalur hf, departedIceland on the 4th of June carrying an estimated 1,800 tonnes of endangered fin whale products to Japan.Although initially scheduled to transit through African ports, the ship docked Thursday in Tromsø, Norway. The vessel obtained a permit on May 25, 2015, from Russia’s Northern Sea Route Authority for transit through the Arctic, according to a document obtained by AWI.

Use of the Winter Bay demonstrates the difficulties Loftsson’s company has encountered using conventional shipping companies to move whale products to Japan. Conservationists are concerned that the Winter Bay, a single-hulled ship rated as an Ice Class 1 vessel (having only basic ice strengthening), and which reported gear problems before leaving Iceland, could present a risk to sensitive Arctic ecosystems and fauna. The Northern Sea Route is closed until July due to thick ice, and ships transiting before September are usually escorted by an icebreaker1In addition, the vessel’s management company, Aquaship, has a history of labour and safety code problems.

“Transporting meat from endangered fin whales on a single-hulled ship through the Northeast Passage shipping route is like playing with explosives,” claims Chris Butler-Stroud, chief executive officer at WDC. “There is a real risk of disaster resulting in a disabled ship and the possible fouling of Arctic waters with fuel and other contaminants where containment of a spill would be difficult, causing adverse impacts to Arctic species and their habitat.”

The Winter Bay’s stopover in Norway raises concerns that Norwegian whale meat might be added to the vessel’s Japan-bound cargo. Loftsson holds shares in the Norwegian whaling company Lofothval, which has already killed a number of minke whales this season. Just last week, the Reinebuen, a vessel linked to Lofothval, hunted a whale in front of a boat carrying Dutch and German tourists.

If the shipment makes it as far as Japan, its final destination, it is likely to be relegated to long-term storage. There is a declining market for whale meat in Japan and much of the meat sits frozen in vast stockpiles.

“Iceland, Norway, and Japan continue to collectively ignore the will of the international community that commercial whale and trade in whale products must end,” said Susan Millward, executive director of AWI. “Since those three countries have no apparent interest in joining the rest of the world in protecting, not persecuting, whales, the international community, led by the United States and United Kingdom, must act to compel these renegade states to stop whaling and trading in whale products.”


Media Contacts:
Amey Owen, Animal Welfare Institute, 202-446-2128,
Danny Groves, Whale and Dolphin Conservation 01249 449 534,

About Animal Welfare Institute (AWI)
The Animal Welfare Institute (AWI) 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 on AWI, visit

About WDC, Whale and Dolphin Conservation
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. For more information, visit

Note to Editors
By exploiting loopholes in the International Convention for the Regulation of Whaling, Iceland sets its own quota for the number of whales it will kill each year even though there is an international ban on commercial whaling. The shipment between Iceland, Norway, and Japan is permitted because these countries have a 'reservation' against the listing of fin whales as endangered by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Speciesof Wild Fauna and Flora - an international treaty ratified in 1973 to protect wildlife against over-exploitation.

1. Following a 2013 incident, two major shippers, Samskip and Evergreen Lines, agreed not to take whale meat again when a consignment of Icelandic fin whale their ships helped transport was impounded by port authorities in Hamburg due to paperwork irregularities. A public outcry ensued and the meat was sent back to Iceland. In 2014, another vessel chartered by Loftsson, the Alma, had to avoid a stop in Durban, South Africa, due to a public outcry.

2. For more information on Icelandic whaling and trade see this report.


1. Northern sea route: modern states and challenges. Nataliya Marchenko. University Centre at Svalbard, Longyearbyen, Norway; State Oceanographical Institute, Moscow, Russia. Proceedings of the ASME 2014 33rd International Conference on Ocean, Offshore and Arctic Engineering OMAE2014, June 8-13, 2014, San Francisco, California, USA.

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