Iceland Mag

6 Reykjavik

Iceland Mag


Whaling is not an Icelandic tradition

  • Whaling vessel A single Icelandic company, Hvalur hf, conducts fin whaling. This is one of its ships. Photo/Vilhelm Gunnarsson

This is an opinion piece by Sigursteinn Másson, the representative of the International Fund for Animal Welfare in Iceland.

They are almost always surprised when we tell them. 1.200.000 tourists last year and at least 1.500.000 expected this year. Many of you have no idea Iceland is one of only three countries in the world still conducting commercial whaling. The other two are Norway and Japan.

Feeding the tourists
But is Iceland really whaling? The fact of the matter is that only one company is still doing minke whaling. They sail their grayish hunting boat from April to September from the town of Kópavogur, a part of the capital area, and they hunt the minke whales just at the line marking the whale sanctuary in Faxaflói bay, the sensitive Reykjavík whale watching area. This means they are hunting the same individual whales the Reykjavík whale watching is trying to find to show tourists on board whale watching boats. Absurd isn´t it?

Read more: Pamela Anderson appeals to Putin: Stop Icelandic Whale meat shipment

More than half of the minke whale meat is sold in restaurants, mostly in Reykjavík, and the costumers? Aha, you probably guessed right: Tourists. I have been in direct contact with many restaurateurs in Reykjavík over the years and they tell me whale meat is almost solely ordered by foreign tourists. Tourists who come from countries like the UK, US, Germany, France, Holland, Italy, China etc. Countries that strongly oppose commercial whaling and all surveys show that over 80% of tourists say they are against whaling.

Iceland banned whaling in 1915
So, how come this is happening here in Iceland? Minke whales are literally being slaughtered to feed tourists and this hunting would end if it was not for some primitive curiosity. Since 2011 The International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) has, in close co-operation with Icewhale – the National Organization of Whale Watching Operators in Iceland – organized a campaign called “Meet Us Don´t Eat Us”. Over 400 SEEDS volunteers from over 30 countries have participated in the campaign, informing tourists in Reykjavík that whaling is neither really an old Icelandic tradition,  nor is whale meat from hunted whales a traditional dish in the country. Some tour-guides, who have not studied the history of whaling well enough, unfortunately fuel this common misunderstanding.

From the beginning of commercial whaling in Iceland, by Basques 1613 and until 1949, whaling was predominantly conducted by foreign companies. A few farmers engaged in limited hunting, and only two to three Icelandic companies were founded and they all went bankrupt soon after being founded. From 1880 and until 1923, and even longer, there was in fact a very strong anti-whaling sentiment in Iceland. There were several reasons for this. In 1913 banned whaling completely in its waters. This ban, which came into effect in 1915, was probably the first of its kind in the world. It was due to strong outside pressure from Denmark and Norway that whaling was allowed again in Iceland more then a decade later.

Not an Icelandic tradition
Just like one company conducts minke whaling, the fin whaling is also driven by one company and in fact by one very rich individual. The difference between the two, besides fin whales being 10-times bigger then minke whales, is that all the meat from fin whaling is exported to Japan while all the meat from minke whaling is sold in Iceland. Fin whales are also listed as endangered while opposition to minke whaling is mainly of animal welfare reasons and because the hunt is harming whale watching.

That is why it is important that all our foreign guests in Iceland understand that when they order a whale Carpaccio or a whale steak at a restaurant in this country, they are only contributing to an unnecessary and inhumane killings of whales. They are not tasting an Icelandic tradition, because only 3% of Icelanders said in a recent Gallup poll they had eaten whale meat 6 times or more often in the preceding 12 months and over 82% of Icelanders never taste it. Why should you?

I ask you humbly to enjoy whales alive by going whale watching instead of having a whale on a plate!

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