Sunday, 24 July 2011
A slick black head breaks the surface,
drawing delighted shrieks from whale watchers in a growing, and lucrative,
activity that some say should replace Iceland's controversial whale hunt.
Since their meagre beginning in the 1990s, whale safaris in this island
state have grown to attract tens of thousands of visitors each summer. But
its proponents tensed up when Iceland reintroduced commercial whaling in
2006, and the two sides remain uneasy bedfellows.
"Whaling is bad for
our business," lamented Hoerdur Sigurbjarnarson, 58, of the family-run North
Sailing tour company based in the tiny northern fishing village of Husavik.
"And it's useless," he exclaimed, hunched over a long wooden table in
the galley of one of six large oak boats his company uses for whale-watching
He insists "there's no market for whale meat," a stance that
Iceland's Whale Commissioner heartily disputes.
Watching and hunting
whales "work perfectly together" in a look-and-cook combo of tourism and
gastronomy, Thomas Heider said last week on the sidelines of the
International Whaling Commission (IWC) forum on the British Channel Island
of Jersey. He said many tourists "go to restaurants afterwards to taste the
But Arni Gunnarsson, the chairman of the Icelandic
Travel Industry Association, feels like Sigurbjarnarson that whaling only
stigmatises the country and contributes little to its crisis-hit economy.
Iceland and Norway are the only two countries in the world that
authorise commercial whaling, under a much criticised exemption within IWC
rules. Japan officially hunts whales for "scientific purposes", though the
whale meat is sold for consumption.
"It's simple: you get more
revenues out of watching the whales than out of hunting them," said
Gunnarsson, stressing that with no international market, the hunts bring in
little to no foreign revenue.
Icelandic whalers insist their
financials are sound, but admit they are serving a tiny market comprising
only a fraction of the country's 320,000 inhabitants as well as some
customers in Japan.
And this sole export market collapsed after Japan
was struck by multiple disasters in March.
"Demand has really shrunk
(but) it will pick up," said Kristjan Loftsson, the 68-year-old head of
Iceland's largest whale-hunting company, Hvalur.
- Foreigners flock
to see the whales -
Sigurbjarnarson, meanwhile, says whale-watching is
booming. And foreigners account for more than 90 percent of the 30,000
clients his company takes out each year from April to October, when whales
migrate to Icelandic waters.
Typical was a recent day when 20 tourists,
including nationals from Austria, France, Germany, Italy and the
Netherlands, braved freezing rain, towering waves and bad visibility to
board one of North Sailing's five daily rides into the whale-rich Skjalfandi
All shouted with joy when a slick humpback suddenly showed its
head then dove back in, slamming its massive tail on the stormy surface. It
was followed by two more humpbacks and a school of dolphins during the
"It was worth it, I think," said green-faced French
national Katia Groh, 29, despite a bout of sea sickness on the lurching
Whale safaris are also booming elsewhere, from New Zealand to
Canada, the United States and Mexico. A study published last year in the
peer-reviewed journal Marine Policy said whale tourism worldwide topped two
billion dollars (1.4 billion euros) in 2009 and was set to grow 10 percent a
An advantage in Iceland is the success rate, according to
Sigurbjarnarson who says 98 percent of his own tours actually sight whales.
And that, he contends, is largely because there is no whale hunting in
Hunter Loftsson, like the government, insists that
North Atlantic whale populations are abundant and rejects anti-whaling
arguments that whalers are depleting what environmentalists say is a
Estimates, Loftsson said, show Icelandic waters
in the summer hold around 20,000 fin whales and some 40,000 minke whales.
"So if we take 150 a year, that's nothing," he said, referring to Iceland's
annual quota for fin whales.
Sigurbjarnarson, however, says such
estimates are "highly questionable". "Whales migrate. They are hard to count
and they shouldn't be hunted," he said.
A few whale watching
companies straddle the issue, taking tourists - as Heider told the IWC forum
- to see whales then taste them back at port.
International Fund For Animal Welfare (IFAW) insists that such tastings
account for a large portion of Iceland's domestic whale market, saying 40
percent of tourists try whale thinking it's a traditional Icelandic dish
whereas only five percent of Icelanders regularly eat whale.
slogan "Meet Us Don't Eat Us" was briefly displayed at Iceland's Keflavik
international airport before, according to the IFAW, the powerful whaler
lobby - who defend hunting as part of national heritage - pressured for its
removal last month.
"We want the tourists to realise they can be part
of the problem or the solution," said IFAW's Sigursteinn Masson.
full story and comments:
U.S. claims Iceland is violating the commercial whaling ban
John Himmelberger on 7/25/2011
U.S. Department of Commerce Secretary Gary Locke has issued a claim that
Iceland is violating the International Whaling Commission�s ban on
As a result of this claim, President Obama has 60 days to decide whether
or not to impose economic sanctions against Iceland. Many animal welfare
groups around the world are looking to President Obama to take a strong
stand against these actions.
Since resuming whaling in 2006, Iceland has killed 280 endangered fin
whales and more than 200 minke whales. They have slowly increased their
quotas each year exporting 1200 tons of whale blubber, the primary buyer
Exported whale blubber has accounted for more than 17 million dollars for
Iceland. Susan Millward, Executive Director of Animal Welfare Institute
says, �Iceland has now been deservedly identified as a rogue whaling
Please add your voice to others urging President Obama to take a stand
for these magnificent creatures. Sign the AWI petition.