Iceland sends record 2,000 tons of finback whale meat to Japan

An Icelandic whaling firm has sent 2,000 tons of finback whale meat to Japan, believed to be a record amount in a single shipment, members of environmental groups said Tuesday.

The meat left Iceland in March and is expected to reach Japan in early or mid-May, according to Greenpeace and the International Fund for Animal Welfare. It remains unknown where the meat will arrive and who is importing it.

Iceland has been increasing its exports of whale meat to Japan in the past several years, with almost all the finback whale meat it catches in its commercial whaling program sent to Japan, according to sources close to the matter.

International trade of finback whales is banned under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, but Iceland, being an exception to this, has increased its Japan-bound exports.

In light of this, U.S. President Barack Obama, who is scheduled to arrive in Tokyo on Wednesday, instructed officials this month to urge Iceland to halt whaling and exporting whale meat.

Japanese trade statistics showed that about 2,112 tons of whale meat have so far been imported from Iceland from 2008 -- when Iceland resumed such exports to Japan -- to 2013, making the latest shipment comparable to total imports in the past six years.

According to the U.S. government, Iceland caught a total of seven finback whales between 1987 and 2008, but the number increased to 134 in 2013, raising strong concerns in Washington that Iceland's increased catch is to cater to the Japanese market.

Although the international treaty forbids the global trade of finback whales, Japan and Iceland have expressed their reservations to this regulation, making it possible for them to continue trade without having their actions labeled as treaty violations.

Japan halted commercial whaling in 1986 in line with an international moratorium on such activities, but has hunted whales since 1987 for what it calls "scientific research" purposes.

But an international court ruled last month that Japan's whaling is not conducted for scientific purposes and ordered the activity to stop. Environmentalists have been arguing that Japan's whaling program is a guise for commercial whaling.