Iceland's lone whaling crusader, Kristjan Loftsson, is attempting to ship an estimated 2,000 tonnes of fin whale meat out of the country despite limited market for the meat and opposition at home and abroad to the bloody trade.
The International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) raised the issue in Iceland after learning from a reliable source earlier this week that Loftsson's stockpile of fin whale meat was being loaded onto the Alma cargo vessel in Hafnarfjordur Harbour near Reykjavik, bound for Japan.
This comes mere weeks after 12 containers of endangered fin whale meat, from whales slaughtered by Loftsson, were shipped across Canada bound for Japan.
Loftsson has been spotted on several occasions in recent days near the Cypriot-registered freezer ship although media report that he denies any knowledge of whale meat being on the vessel. 'Frozen Whale' is written in Japanese on the boxes that went aboard.
Only last month, the US Government announced it was taking action against Iceland over its continued slaughter of whales and trade in whale meat, using the Pelly Amendment, which certifies Iceland for undermining the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES). The nature of such action is due to be announced by President Obama within days, before a deadline of April 1.
"Something smells fishy about this," said Patrick Ramage, Global Whale Programme Director for IFAW. "Icelanders don't even eat fin whale. But one businessman seems hell-bent on resuscitating the international trade in whale meat, whatever the costs to himself and his beautiful country. Now he's in a mad rush to get the frozen meat of endangered whales out of the country by any means necessary just before the US imposes measures on Iceland for his irresponsible activities.
"The world watching this farce unfold would rather come to Iceland and watch whales than watch the pathetic last gasp of this dying industry harpoon Iceland's interests."
Iceland MP Arni Thor Sigurdsson of the Left Green Party, speaking in the Icelandic Parliament, the Althingi, this morning, asked the Minister of Foreign Affairs what effect he thought Loftsson's efforts would have on US action and whether such an export was positive at this time. The Minister answered that he did not know about the export.
Asbjorn Bjorgvinsson, Chairman of The Icelandic Tourism Association, said: "This whaling activity goes against Iceland's interests and our international image as it is opposed by all countries Iceland has the most important ties with. Whale watching is worth far more."
Arni Finnsson, Chairman of the Iceland Nature Conservation Association (INCA) added: "No doubt this shipment will be stored in Loftsson's deep freezers in Japan for a long period due to lack of demand for this kind of product on the Japanese market."
In recent years, Loftsson has regularly exported relatively small amounts of fin whale meat to his own company in Japan, but has yet to find a demand for the meat on the Japanese market. Fin whales are listed as endangered on the IUCN Red List.
Last summer both ports and carriers in Europe publicly rejected the whale meat trade when containers opened at ports in Rotterdam and Hamburg were returned to Iceland and met with public protests at the killing of whales for products such as dog food.
A total of 280 fin whales were killed in Iceland's waters between 2006 and 2010. Loftsson then halted his fin whaling operation for two years, citing difficulties in trading the meat with Japan following its tsunami tragedy as a reason for cancelling the hunt in 2011 and 2012. He resumed the slaughter last year with 134 fin whales killed.
Minke whaling in Iceland, which has focussed on a limited domestic and tourism market, is also dwindling. In 2012, 52 minke whales were killed, despite a catch limit of 216 and last year the figure dropped to 36.
Last December, the Icelandic government issued new quotas that would allow 229 minke whales and 154 endangered fin whales to be harpooned each year for the next five years.
IFAW has worked alongside Icelandic whale watch operators for many years to promote whale watching as a humane and profitable alternative to the cruelty of whaling. Iceland is one of Europe's top destinations for whale watching, attracting 175,000 whale watchers annually.