captured whale
In Icelandic company has shipped 1,700 tons of whale meat bound for Japan. In this photo, captured short-finned pilot whales are seen on the deck of a whaling ship at Taiji Port in Japan's oldest whaling village of Taiji, 420 km (260 miles) southwest of Tokyo June 4, 2008. Reuters/Issei Kato

An Icelandic ship laden with 1,700 tons of fin whale meat left for Japan on Thursday, in a move that has prompted outrage from environmental groups. The Winter Bay left the port of Hafnarfjordur in western Iceland on Thursday evening, according to monitor website

The ship is set to make four stops, of which Japan is the last one.

“Winter Bay has left Hafnarfjordur harbour with 1,700 tons of whale meat with Ghana ... as their first destination," Sigursteinn Masson, Iceland spokesman for the International Fund for Animal Welfare told Agence France-Presse. "My source tells me they need to stop at least four times on the way to Japan which could be very difficult."

Iceland and Norway are the only countries that openly disregard the 1986 ban on whaling put in place by the International Whaling Commission.

Icelandic whalers caught a total of 137 fin whales and 24 minke whales in 2014, according to Whale and Dolphin Conservation group, compared to 134 fin whales and 35 minke whales in 2013. The country resumed the hunts in 2013 in defiance of the ban after a two-year moratorium.

Fin whales are the second-largest animal on earth and are considered an endangered species by the International Union for Conservation of Nature.

Japan has continued the hunting under a legal provision that allows scientific hunts, but the meat from its expeditions often allegedly ends up being sold openly. However, the country's revised proposal, seeking the slaughtering of 330 minke whales a year for the next 12 years, was denied by the International Whaling Committee in April.

The Winter Bay was due to leave Iceland in May, but mechanical problems reportedly forced the trip to be delayed. Previous whale meat shipments have been delayed or stopped by major protests. Last year, another whale meat shipment from Iceland to Japan had to cancel a planned stop on the port of Durban due to activist protests in South Africa.

The market for whale meat has shrunk drastically in recent years, with demand in both Iceland and Japan falling steeply in recent years.