Workers hose down a large fin whale in Hvalfjordur, Iceland, Sunday after it was harpooned at sea.
updated 10/23/2006 8:16:54 AM ET 2006-10-23T12:16:54

Icelandic whalers broke a 21-year-old international ban on whaling on Saturday when they harpooned the first fin whale since the moratorium was imposed in 1985, a whalers’ spokesman said.

Fin whales are rated an endangered species on a “Red List” compiled by the World Conservation Union but Iceland says they are plentiful in the north Atlantic.

Reykjavik decided Tuesday to catch nine fin whales and 30 minke whales in the year to Aug. 31, 2007, despite the 1985 moratorium imposed by the International Whaling Commission.

“One fin whale was caught today and will be landed tomorrow,” said Rune Froevik, spokesman of the Norway-based High North Alliance which represents the interests of Arctic hunting and fishing communities.

He said the whale was a large specimen, 65 to 70 feet long. Whales are caught for food, often favored as steaks.

Iceland, which has hunted minke whales since 2003 as part of scientific research, has joined Norway as the only country that sanctions full-blown commercial whaling. Japan allows whaling, but says it is for research purposes.

Reykjavik argues that it is merely harvesting whales in line with other marine resources, such as cod, around the volcanic island of almost 300,000 people.

Many countries say that whale stocks are still too uncertain to allow catches or argue that harpooning the world’s largest mammals is cruel. Blue whales, bigger than any dinosaur, are among species that have been hunted close to extinction.

Whaling nations argue that stocks of some species have recovered since the moratorium. Iceland says there are about 70,000 minke whales and 25,800 fin whales in the central North Atlantic region.

Froevik said that Iceland had hunted some fin whales as part of a scientific research program in the late 1980s but had not caught any in a commercial hunt since 1985.

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