A whalers cuts open and inspects the meat of a 35-ton fin whale on June 19, 2009, one of two fin whales caught aboard a Hvalur boat off the coast of Hvalfjsrour, north of Reykjavik, on the western coast of Iceland. (AFP/Halldor Kolbeins)
A whale killed by Icelandic fishermen at the beginning of July was not a rare blue whale, as marine conservationists had claimed, and was therefore not protected, a scientific institute said on Thursday.
The whale which was harpooned and landed at an Icelandic whaling station on July 7 was a hybrid between a blue whale and a fin whale, the Marine and Freshwater Research Institute in Reykjavik said in a statement.
Sea Shepherd, an international non-profit marine conservation movement, had claimed the mammal was a rare blue whale, the world's largest leviathan which the International Whaling Commission has been protecting since 1966.
But the whaling station, Hvalur hf, argued that the animal was a fin whale, the second largest animal on the planet, which can be legally hunted in Iceland despite an international moratorium on whaling.
In its statement, the MFRI said that a genetic analysis had shown that the butchered animal was, in fact, "a hybrid of a fin whale father and a blue whale mother".
Scientists say such hybrids are very rare, possibly even rarer than the blue whales. But there are no laws to protect them.
Since 1987, five such animals have been observed in Icelandic waters and they are known to be infertile.
All killed whales in Iceland undergo DNA tests after the hunting season and the results are released during the fall.
However, due to the controversy surrounding this case, a test was done earlier than planned.
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