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Hard to port

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An image showing the fin that experts say is proof that this is a blue whale

Whalers in Iceland have killed a blue whale, one of the largest creatures on the planet.

Photographic evidence from activists who are against whaling shows that a large animal is slaughtered for export.

From these images, several experts have come to the conclusion that it is a youthful male blue, a species that has not been deliberately killed since 1978.

The whaling companies involved say that they are certain that the animal is a cross between a blue and a fin whale.

DNA tests are needed to confirm the true identity of the whale.

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Why is the species important?

The main reason for the interest in the species is to determine whether this killing is legal or not Icelandic.

Weighing up to 200 tons and up to 30 meters in length, blue whales were marginalized by commercial whalers from many countries, including the United Kingdom, from the 1940s to the 1960s when they fell under the International Whaling Commission. This means that all countries, including Iceland, have agreed not to kill the creatures.

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This is different for fin whales. While there is an international moratorium on the killing of whales, Iceland does not believe that finbacks are threatened and grants permits for their hunt.

Hybrids between fin and blue whales are a gray area, specialists say. A hybrid allows the whalers to say they simply made a mistake.

"If it is a blue whale, it would be illegal and a break and fines could be imposed, and maybe the company will lose its whaling license," said Arne Feuerhahn of the Hard to Port campaign group, which documented the recent murder.

What do experts think?

From the photographic evidence, most people seem to think that it is a blue whale.

"We can not confirm 100%," said Arne Feuerhahn.

"We have consulted many international experts, most of whom think that it is a young male blue whale, but there was also some doubt that there could be a cross between a blue and a fin whale."

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Sea Shepherd

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An image showing the fin that experts say is proof that this is a blue whale

Others were more specific.

"From the photos, it has all the characteristics of a blue whale," said Dr. Phillip Clapham of the Alaska Fisheries Science Center of the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) in a statement.

"Given this, especially because of the color pattern, there is almost no possibility that an experienced observer would have misidentified it as something else at sea."

What do the whalers say?

The company involved is confident that the animal being killed is not a blue whale but a hybrid.

"I'm absolutely confident that it's a hybrid," said Kristján Loftsson, who heads Hvalur hf.

"Holding a blue whale for a fin whale is impossible, this whale has all the characteristics of a fin whale in the ocean, there are many blue whales off the coast of Iceland when we see the blows and sail there, and we realize it's a blue and then we leave it and look for fin whales. "

What did the Icelandic government say?

Kristján Thor Juliusson, Iceland's Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries, said: "Although the initial information indicates that the animal in question is not a blue whale, we take these reports seriously and the relevant authorities are urgently investigating this matter.

"Currently, the Icelandic authorities are unable to confirm the species, although initial information from the Fisheries Directorate in Iceland indicates that the trapped animal is probably not a blue whale but a hybrids of a fin whale and a blue whale ,

Activists believe that in the long term, it does not matter if it's a blue or a hybrid, since they think the overall impression is negative.

"These images make people speechless all over the world – thousands are coming to Iceland to see these animals in the wild, and there is only one company that will keep this industry alive in Iceland, casting a bad light on Iceland's reputation internationally." said activist Arne Feuerhahn.

Will DNA testing be definitive?

Yes, it probably will. But there are doubts among the activists that this will happen quickly.

"We contacted the Icelandic authorities and requested samples," said Arne Feuerhahn.

"But now it looks like they are not really disturbed because they said it could be autumn or winter before they get the results of DNA testing."

The Icelandic government says they will not hesitate in this matter.

"This will not be confirmed until a DNA analysis is completed, a process that is accelerated by the nature of these reports," said Minister Kristján Thor Juliusson.

Are hybrid blue whales common?

Specialists believe that hybrids are not very common in the waters off Iceland.

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"Since 1983, they have only taken five of them," said Astrid Fuchs of the charity Whale and Dolphin Conservation.

"Four of them were killed by whalers and one is a beloved whale watcher and is still alive – they are very rare," she told BBC News.

What will happen to the whale meat?

Iceland sells almost all of its whale meat to Japan, one of the few countries that reject international consensus for the protection of whales. However, if this whale is blue, this meat can not legally be shipped.

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Sea Shepherd

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A Japanese inspector and part of the crew take pictures of the whale

If it is a hybrid whale, it is possible that it could be sold in Iceland. However, under the international rules governing trade in animals, the status of hybrids is important. So if the tribe has blue whales, the Japanese market would be closed.

What are the consequences for Icelandic whaling?

Kristján Loftsson's company has already captured and killed 22 whales, including this youngest and most controversial one.

If it turns out to be a hybrid, there probably will not be much impact on the whalers.

Mr. Loftsson says he's being targeted by activists, and there's nothing unusual about the recent murder.

"That's nothing new to us, we've had at least five in the past few years with similar traits and DNA analysis shows a completely different profile of a fin whale and this has been described as a mix of a blue and a fin," he told BBC News ,

Activists, however, believe it could be the beginning of the end.

"We hope it could be the nail in the casket of Icelandic whaling," said Astrid Fuchs of the WDC (Whale and Dolphin Conservation).

"It confirms what scientists have been saying for years, whaling can not be regulated – it's always a bit out of control, they go there, but they do not know what they're shooting, if that's a blue, it would." Drive home the message that you can not regulate this. "

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