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Last Updated: Sunday, 17 August, 2003, 21:03 GMT 22:03 UK
Iceland whalers begin hunt
A whaling boat fitted with a harpoon goes in search of Minke whales off the coast of Reykjavik, Iceland 17 August 2003
Whale meat not used by scientists will end up in restaurants
Icelandic whale hunters have left port for their first hunt in 14 years, angering animal welfare groups and environmentalists.

The first of three boats left port in the early hours of Sunday, having been delayed by stormy weather on Friday.

The two other boats left on Sunday afternoon - their routes kept secret.

No kills have been reported yet from any of the boats.

We need to know exactly what's going on
Gill Sanders,
International Fund for Animal Welfare
"Our plan calls for the whales to be taken in specific areas," Gisli Vikingsson, lead scientist on one of the boats, told state radio.

The vessels are on a six-week mission to kill 38 minke whales - a mission Iceland insists is for scientific purposes, to protect its fish stocks.

It says whales have become so abundant since a worldwide moratorium on commercial whaling that they are threatening stocks of fish, including cod.

But the decision was attacked by the UK and US Governments, as well as animal welfare groups.

Tourism fears

The International Fund for Animal Welfare (Ifaw) says there is no scientific basis for the operation, and that Iceland cannot use science to camouflage its desire to resume commercial whaling.

BBC News Online's guide to the key species in the whale-hunting debate

A representative for Ifaw, Gill Sanders, is on one of the whaling boats. She plans to watch the crew fire their harpoons, and see how long it takes for a minke whale to die.

"It's going to be the most distressing thing of my life," she said. "But that's why I'm here and we need to know exactly what's going on."

Iceland's tourism industry has also criticised the hunt, fearing it could damage the country's image, and threaten the increasingly popular whale-watching business.

However, polls show three-quarters of Iceland's 290,000 population supports the resumption of whaling.
ICELAND AND THE WHALE
1986: International moratorium on commercial whaling
1989: Iceland halts whaling
1992: Iceland quits IWC
2002: Rejoins IWC
2003: Resumes whaling
Iceland has not hunted whales since 1989.

It left the International Whaling Commission, the body that regulates world whaling, in 1992.

But it rejoined in 2002 on condition that it was allowed to register its objection to the moratorium on commercial whaling that has been in place since 1986.

The environmental organisation Greenpeace has sent its flagship Rainbow Warrior on a mission to Iceland.

The ship, which campaigned against Icelandic whaling on its maiden voyage in 1978, is due to arrive in two weeks.


WATCH AND LISTEN
The BBC's Martin Popplewell
"The Icelandic authorities have gone to great lengths to prevent photos of the hunt"



SEE ALSO:
Iceland divided over whaling
15 Aug 03  |  Business
Protest over Iceland's whaling plans
15 Aug 03  |  Science/Nature
Iceland to resume whaling
06 Aug 03  |  Science/Nature
Whales' recovery 'vastly overestimated'
24 Jul 03  |  Science/Nature
Whale commission future 'in jeopardy'
19 Jun 03  |  Science/Nature
Greater protection for whales agreed
16 Jun 03  |  Science/Nature
Iceland bids to resume whaling
03 Apr 03  |  Science/Nature


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