The war on whaling: Activists, industry fight over hunting the gentle sea giants

Iceland is just one of two countries in the world that allow commercial whaling in defiance of the International Whaling Commission's ban on whaling.
8:33 | 10/18/18

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Transcript for The war on whaling: Activists, industry fight over hunting the gentle sea giants
Reporter: In the frigid waters off the coast of Iceland -- these gentle giants seem to rule the sea. It's a breathtaking performance for tourists from around the world. But beneath the surface, some species of whales are being hunted. Iceland is one of just two countries in the world that still allows whaling for profit, in defiance of an international ban. If you are a hunter, this is just insane. You just shoot the animal. Reporter: Making this the front line of the war over whaling. It's heartbreaking this watch this, these beautiful creatures. Reporter: We're headed out of Reykjavik. We're going to meet anti-whaling activists with a group called sea shepherd. Essentially they keep a 24-hour vigil monitoring every whale that comes into the whaling station. Hey, this is it. This is the whaling station. Reporter: Rob Reid is heading the effort in Iceland. This is the largest whaling station there is on land. Reporter: Their goal, to shut down this whaling station for good. What you can see down here is the last remains of the two whales brought in at 5:00 this morning by the whaling ship. Reporter: This hunting season, sea shepherd was staked out here around the clock. You can see the ship coming right into the corner of the rocks. Reporter: Waiting, and watching. Four, five miles off at the moment. That's quite hard to tell how fast it's going. Reporter: When a catch comes in, sea shepherd is ready to livestream it. Using social media as a weapon. Just unloaded two more endangered fin whales -- Really appreciate you guys joining us to watch this. Reporter: #Theirharpoons. This is the 22nd fin whale that's been killed. Reporter: Images igniting global outrage. It's applying pressure, making sure there's maximum pressure from the international community. Also from people within Iceland. Because this isn't well reported in Iceland. Reporter: Sea shepherd has a controversial past. Some have called their tactics eco-terrorism. The group notoriously clashing with Japanese whaling ships near Antarctica in the animal planet reality series "Whale wars." In Iceland sea shepherd sank two whaling ships. Overseas recess dens of Reykjavik are reeling somewhat from an attack on their whaling industry -- Reporter: More than three decades later, those rotting ships a reminder of how far they're willing to go. Today their tactics are less extreme, but their target is the same. The whaling company kavalar and managing director Christian loftson, one of Iceland's richest men. Do you carry fear sea shepherd may do that again? I don't know, these are vicious people. Do you have security on your ships? Sure. But if people want to do things, they do it. Reporter: He's the last standing company hunting fin whales, the second-largest animal in the world. Most of the meat is exported to Japan, where it's considered a delicacy. I have to tell you, when I hear that described, an explosive detonating inside an animal, it sounds horrible. What is your argument? This is the most efficient way there is. It's like when they shoot deer. Reporter: He believes whales are a renewable resource. We are conservationists. You know the world conservation means, conserve and utilize. Conserve and utilize, right. You call your business a conservation business and believe it to be sure? Of course, sure. It is sustainable. So we are happy. Reporter: The Icelandic government says the whale population is stable and the quota they set, up to 193 fin whales this season, is conservative. But while there are about 40,000 of this species in Iceland's waters, globally fin whales are endangered. From what we've been told, the fin whale population in Iceland is strong enough to sustain this quota. What does sea shepherd say? There's less than 100,000 of these whales on the planet. And throughout the world's oceans, just because they're easily found this time of year in Iceland, it doesn't justify the hunting of them. They're not Iceland's fin whales, they're the world's fin what is. Reporter: We get word the fin whale has risen. Hello, hi. Is that rob? We are now headed to the whaling station. Because this whale is about to come in to be processed here and sea shepherd is racing here so they can livestream the whole thing. Reporter: As we get closer, the scent of the kill permeates the air. The smell comes in waves with the wind. When it hits you, oh -- it's hard to breathe. Fin whales soar massive that the ship can only pull two at a time. Slowly. Processing station suddenly active. Preparing and blasting music. They've started to play a song from the "Grease" soundtrack. Normally here it's very quiet. But tonight there's music playing. I just find it extremely disrespectful. It's two whales. You see two whales? Two whales on the ship. Not what you wanted to see? No. No. Reporter: Those white spots in the water? Tonight's kill. Two strapped to the side of the boat. They'll be winched across here unceremoniously, pulled up onto the deck, and butchered. It's heartbreaking to watch this, these beautiful creatures. Reporter: We are now seeing these two whales being brought up onto the deck. We're really seeing this whale next to these people, and the people down there look tiny. That animal is so huge as it's being winched up there, ready to be processed. Sea shepherd streaming live every moment to viewers around the world in realtime. What are people saying? Very distressing news. Oh my god, it's beyond disgusting. Sad thing to see. That's why we're here, to expose this to the world, make sure everyone knows this is still happening in Iceland. Reporter: They've removed a bit of the tail and made big incisions along the whale's body to peel off the skin and start to process it. We are going to stop showing that now. Across Iceland, meat from fin whales and minke whales can be easily found in markets. We have the whale blubber from the fin whale. Reporter: And at restaurants. We have a pepper steak, we have a sashimi -- Reporter: Whale meat is mostly marketed to tourists. Which is why activists with ice whale have taken to the streets asking visitors to boycott eating whale meat during their stay. Sign a petition -- Reporter: This campaign slogan, "Meet us, don't eat us." Now there is an entire industry that depends on whales being kept alive. Whale watching was nonexistent here two decades ago. These days it's a booming business. It's amazing. It's the first time I've ever seen whales. Oh my gosh! That's incredible. Reporter: The whole population here also draws researchers from around the world. It's still thrilling. It never gets old. Never gets old. Something like that, when something that weighs 40 tons can launch itself out of the never gets old. Wow. Reporter: As this whaling season came to a close, the decades-old debate continues. It's a resource that has young and multiplies. You can carry on whaling forever. Reporter: A creature both a natural resource and a natural wonder. I have a 4-year-old daughter who wants to be growing up in a world where whales still exist. And hopefully whales have the best place at the moment. Reporter: Gloria Riviera reporting from Iceland.

This transcript has been automatically generated and may not be 100% accurate.

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