(CNN)One of Iceland's richest men has hit back against claims his whaling company illegally killed a protected blue whale.
"We have never caught a blue whale in our waters since they were protected," Kristján Loftsson, managing director of Hvalur hf, told CNN. "We see them in the ocean. When you approach a blue whale, it's so distinct that you leave it alone."
Anti-whaling group Sea Shepherd claimed Wednesday that Loftsson's company had killed and butchered a blue whale in Hvalfjordur, Iceland. Volunteers monitoring the whaling site photographed orange-clad crews examining the massive carcass.
The largest animals in existence, blue whales are a protected species and have not been deliberately captured since 1978, according to the International Union for the Conservation of Nature.
Loftsson claimed that the whale in question was either a fin whale, or a hybrid species, not protected under Icelandic law. He said if it was a blue whale the kill was purely accidental.
The difference between these and blue whales is "easy to see," Loftsson said.
Conservationists disagreed however. Adam A. Pack, researcher and professor of biology at the University of Hawaii at Hilo, said the photos appeared to show a blue whale.
"(Look at) the way the dorsal fin is hooked, the pointed pectoral fins, and the size of the animal," he said.
Pack also noted the lack of a white lip, characteristic in fin whales, and the mottling on the whale's flank, an identifier that acts like fingerprints, as more evidence the animal in question was likely a blue whale.