Hvalur hf. whaling company has caught a whale which may be a rare hybrid. Stundin reported first. Animal rights advocacy group Hard to Port, which opposes whaling in Iceland, posted pictures of the animal on social media. The group asserts that the whale, caught on July 7, exhibited some blue whale characteristics and may therefore be a blue whale/fin whale hybrid.
Hvalur hf. recommenced whaling in June after a two-year break. The company has caught 22 whales this year, with the first 21 identified as fin whales. The 22nd whale shows different features, including colouring that differs from most fin whales.
Some experts believe the whale is not in fact a hybrid, but a blue whale. “While I can't entirely rule out the possibility that this is a hybrid, I don't see any characteristics that would suggest that,” Dr. Phillip Clapham of the NOAA Alaska Fisheries Science Centre told conservation organisation Sea Shepherd. “From the photos, it has all the characteristics of a blue whale; given that - notably the coloration pattern - there is almost no possibility that an experienced observer would have misidentified it as anything else at sea.”
Staff from the Marine & Freshwater Research Institute of Iceland takes biological samples and measurements of every whale hunted by Hvalur hf. Gísli Arnór Víkingsson, marine biologist and whale expert at the institute, told Morgunblaðið the organisation received word that the whale hunted may in fact be a hybrid.
“We received a report of this strange whale immediately and according to our employee it is reminiscent of a hybrid which we’ve gotten a bit of in the past which is a remarkable phenomenon. From pictures of the specimen we are nearly sure it is so, but it will not be confirmed until we do a DNA analysis in the fall,” Gísli stated. The Marine & Freshwater Research Institute normally analyses DNA samples of all hunted whales simultaneously once the season has ended. It has not been decided whether analysis of the potential hybrid’s DNA will be expedited, “but of course we will look at this one especially in the fall with respect to this point,” Gísli stated.
While blue whales are protected, the same does not apply to hybrid whales. “If this is a blue whale which is a protected species it would be a violation of the regulations of the International Whaling Commission, but if this is a hybrid there is no violation of regulations,” Gísli remarked. “Hybrids do not have special protection in and of themselves.”