A Return to the Whaling Station

Warning: This blog post contains graphic images of whales being butchered at a whaling station. If you do not want to see this, please do not read on.


In my previous blog post here I wrote about my experiences visiting the whaling station in Hvalfjörður. In reality, on that occasion, I only saw the clean up part of the whaling process and did not see any newly returned whales being butchered. None the less it was an extremely sad experience and I didn't think it would be possible to see anything worse than this. I could not have been more wrong.

Earlier this week I was notified that one of the boats had returned after a successful hunt. I immediately got into my car and drove for an hour to the station.

I again parked at the viewing spot just above the station. There was another car there along with two guys from Sea Shepherd who were documenting what was happening. As I opened the car door I was hit by the worst smell I have ever come across. A mix of iron, chemicals, cooked meat and decay is about the best I can do in describing it. I imagine this is what people are describing when they talk about the smell of death. I almost retched. Phil, one of the Sea Shepherd guys, I think could see my reaction and it was all I could do to not breath in as we made our introductions. His colleague Sam was along the fence where the smell was apparently worse (I can confirm that was somehow unbelievably the case). Below were the remains of the first of two whales that had been brought back. This makes up the first set of images. 

Over the next 4-5 hours I witnessed them completed the butchering of this whale and the subsequent butchering of the second whale. All the while music was blaring out - Paul Simon's "You Can Call Me Al" will never sound the same.

If you are affected by what you see below and want to help in some way, please do share this post and please consider writing to the following email addresses or offices as per Sea Shepherds suggestion:

"Please email or write polite letters voicing your support for Iceland's whale watching industry and the establishment of a national whale sanctuary in Iceland's territorial waters:

Katrín Jakobsdóttir
Prime Minister of Iceland
The Prime Minister's Office
Stjornarradshusid vid Laekjartorg
101 Reykjavik, Iceland
E-mail: postur@for.is

Guðmundur Ingi Guðbrandsson
Minister for the Environment and Natural Resources
Skuggasund 1
101, Reykjavik, Iceland
E-mail: postur@environment.is

Icelandic Tourism Board
Geirsgata 9
101 Reykjavík, Iceland
E-mail: upplysingar@ferdamalastofa.is"

Ok, here are the images - please click to see larger if you wish:

Blood pours onto the whalers boots as he cuts through the top of the whale

A vet (in black) checks to see if the female was pregnant. She wasn't this time but there have been 15 pregnant females killed this year so far. The vet will often stamp on the uterus to check. If there is a baby it will be rushed away from the cameras - surprising considering that they claim not to be ashamed of what they are doing. They have also pretended that some females have been pregnant as a cruel joke to those documenting this.

Workers wait to use the various winches and machines that help dismantle the whales. Notice the large pneumatic saw steaming in front. They will use winches to pull parts off the whale as you will see later

A worker stands on top to separate the spine. Another worker walks to attach the waste to a winch so it can be dragged away.

A worker checking his watch. It takes surprisingly little time to take apart a whale that may weigh 80 tonnes.

Waste is hauled away to be discarded into holes in the floor of the whaling station

Huge pieces of the whale lay discarded on the ground

This pit contains the upper portion of a previous whale's head. You can clearly see her eye looking up. This effected me deeply. The pit contains some hot liquid with possibly some chemical. You will see in my previous post that the final result is what looks like cooked meat that can be stripped off the bone easily.

Further pieces laying on the ground waiting to be processed 

The tail of the whale now visible as she's been flipped over. Whale meat visible in the background. 

As they come to finish processing they flip the whale onto it's side. The sound it makes is awful. The whole experience is a sensory overload when combined with the sight and smells emanating from the station. The workers took a lunch break at this point.

Lunch break over, the workers get back to hauling parts around with hooks on sticks

Unfortunately it proved too much for one man to manage so his co-worker stepped in to help

Whale 117 waits on the slipway waiting to be processed, half in the water. The harpoon hole clearly visible behind its fin.

The upper part of the head from whale 116 upturned, her closed eye visible through the steam. This was one of the hardest parts for me to see.

Another view of the upper head of whale 116. In the background workers haul away something to the waste hole

Skin and blubber is dragged into the pit of water/chemicals to be disposed of

Despite the hairnet and resulting appearance of professionalism, this worker uses his boot to kick whale meat into a hole

Kicking another piece into the hole

I think this is a vet taking a sample from the head of whale 116. You can see the number carved into the bone on the right

A clearer view of the number 116 carved into the bone. This is perhaps done for record purposes.

The closed eye of whale 116 in the rain. One of the saddest sights I witnessed

Now it's the turn of whale 117. A winch is attached to the tail fin and she is hauled up onto the whaling station.

The winch pulling the tail fin, vets looking on, waiting to take their measurements.

Whale 117 hauled into position for processing. She was an average sized fin whale. You can still see she was very big.

The vets take size measurements whilst a worker goes about immediately removing the rope that attached the whale to the side of the boat. 

A close up of the harpoon wound reveals what appears to be the tip sticking out of the side (the hooked bit towards the top of the image) whilst the base is embedded just behind the fin. This suggests the harpoon has gone all the way through. We have no way of knowing how this affected the speed of her death but it is awful none the less.

The pneumatic saw in action cutting the spine of whale 116 into pieces. The power tool of nightmares.

Throughout the day the workers would spend time laughing and joking, sometimes waving up at us watching them. They clearly enjoy what they are doing.

The vet cuts into the whale to take samples for testing. In 2015 Japan rejected the meat for being too contaminated. It begs the question "what is the point then?"

Whilst the vets run their checks, another worker uses his boots to kick parts into a hole. I think this is perhaps the most upsetting aspect of it all. There is absolutely no care or respect given to the creatures. They are truly just considered as pieces of meat.

An overview of the station. There are the parts of at least 3 different whales visible here.

Work begins. The first cuts into whale 117 cause blood to pour out of her air hole.

Workers climb onto her to start dividing her up. The worker to the right sharpens his blade.

Further incisions prepare the whale to be skinned.

A cable and winch are attached to the skin which is then cut and pulled away from the body. 

It doesn't take long for the skin to be removed, a matter of seconds. In the mean time, workers continue to dump parts into the holes. The worker on the right using a chainsaw to cut up bone.

After a couple of minutes, the skin is removed. The vet is taking measurements, perhaps the temperature of the whale, whilst a worker sharpens his blade next to him, ready to start taking the meat.

As the meat was cut from the back, the smell returned worse than ever. It was at this point that a winch and cable were attached to the lower jaw and it was literally ripped away.

After some resistance, the jaw gives way and is pulled away to be cut up into pieces. On a day of awful images, this is up there as one of the worst.

Time to remove the front of the whale with the intestines, stomach and uterus all being cut free.

A winch and cable again being used to pull away the waste. The vet is standing ready to check if she was a pregnant female again. Thankfully she wasn't.

An incision causes water to flood out of the whale to much hilarity. A worker films everything for reasons unknown. We had all had enough by this point and decided to call it a day.

After leaving I headed to Akranes to try and clear my head. I was in shock at what I had seen over the previous 5 hours. I headed to the lighthouse thinking I may be able to see the other boat, Hvalur 8, return and warn the guys. Instead as I arrived at the lighthouse I saw Hvalur 9 already leaving the fjord to hunt again. She would return around 36 hours later with another 2 fin whales. 

I was just snapping images of Hvalur 9 sailing out as a record and not paying too much attention. When I got home I realised that the boat had been photo-bombed by what looked like a minke whale. The irony of this was not lost on me but it was a bright point on an otherwise distressing experience. After around 3 hours at Akranes, and no sign of Hvalur 8 returning, I left and headed home. Hvalur 8 would in fact stay out for an extraordinarily long time on the trip, only returning after more than 50 hours. Let's hope it is getting harder for the whalers to find the whales.

If you have reached this far, thank you for taking the time to go through these images. If this has affected you please do leave a comment below and do consider taking the time to write to the Icelandic government if you can. If you can't, perhaps I can ask that this post is shared. I can only do so much to raise awareness of this but I know that it does make a difference the more people that see this.

I will continue to follow the remainder of the hunting season and keep you updated of any new developments.