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Humpback whale underwater

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Black Sea common dolphins © Elena Gladilina

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Minke whale © Ursula Tscherter - ORES

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Boto © Fernando Trujillo

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Orcas at the seabed

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Icelandic whalers bank on tourist ignorance – don't be fooled!

Iceland’s commercial hunt of minke whales opened in early June and as many as 264 whales could be killed this season, including a permitted carry-over of unused quota from last year.  Yet, as of today, the Fiskistofa website (Iceland’s Fisheries Directorate) which – perhaps tellingly – has not been updated since June 13th, indicates that only 4 whales have been taken so far. Four whales is four too many of course, but that figure is far lower than at this time last year, when around two dozen whales had been killed.  So what is going on?

Gunnar Bergmann Jonsson, CEO of minke whaling company IP-Utgerd Ltd, has been quick to suggest that there are fewer whales around than previous years – yet oddly, he made exactly the same claim last year as well. 

Our view is that, since minke whale numbers in the region have been steadily declining over the past decade or so – with the reasons behind this decline still poorly understood – the precautionary principle should apply and further quotas should be denied.

Gunnar Jonsson’s apparent anxiety at the slow start to the season appears to be due to his belief that he must cater to massive tourist demand. Whilst it is true that tourist numbers are rising steadily, with 1.8 million last year and even larger numbers expected this year, it is also true that education and outreach campaigns by WDC and other NGOs has succeeded in substantially reducing the percentage of tourists willing to sample whale meat.

Our message that tourist demand is largely driving the hunts- under the mistaken belief that whale meat is a popular and traditional local dish –  has seen the percentage of tourists eating whale meat plummet from 40% in 2009, to 12% (2016 Gallup poll commissioned by IFAW).

Our message has always been clear: please visit Iceland to enjoy the wonderful scenery and support the brave and outspoken whale watch industry, which provides an economically-successful bulwark against the whaling and which, of course, depends on tourists for its survival. But please don’t be tempted to become an unwitting ‘patsy’ for the whalers, who bank on tourist ignorance when it comes to ordering in restaurants and supermarkets, to enable them to continue their cruel trade.

In addition to widely circulating our latest flyer with the aim of reaching tourists before they even arrive in Iceland, we are also working with other NGOs to lobby airlines serving Iceland not to promote whale meat via articles or advertisements in their in-flight magazines. We’re also asking the airlines to warn passengers that it is illegal in most parts of the world to attempt to bring whale products back home with them, following a spate of seizures at airports in Europe and elsewhere. 

If you are considering visiting Iceland, please check out our partner, Off The Map Travel

About Vanessa Williams-Grey

Policy manager - Stop Whaling and Responsible Whale Watching