Watching Whales, Hopefully Forever

An orca pod feeding. Iceland, one of the few countries that still hunts whales commercially plans to end the practice from 2024. Photograph: Nature Picture Library/Alamy

Of all the dozens of times in our pages where whales are the central topic, there was once when Icelandic whaling was featured. And that story was about ending the practice of hunting these majestic animals. Today’s story–‘Meet us, don’t eat us’: Iceland turns from whale eaters to whale watchers–is the first time I have heard that travelers are the primary market for whale meat there. Strange, but true:

Reykjavik harbour. The small red boat on the right is an Elding whale-watching vessel. The blue one with a tall mast is a whaling boat. Photograph: Abby Young-Powell

The country’s plan to end commercial whaling is driven by falling demand but also a 15-year-long campaign aimed at their biggest consumers of whale meat – tourists

Onboard a small whale-watching boat making its way across the choppy waters of Faxaflói Bay, off the south-west coast of Iceland, a guide urges tourists not to eat whale meat. “We have a campaign here against whaling,” says Estelle, who has been pointing out whales and dolphins from the boat. “It’s better to meet them in person than to eat them.”

Iceland, one of the few countries in the world to hunt whales commercially, announced in February its plan to end the practice from 2024, though it has not officially banned it yet.

Falling demand for whale meat, especially since Japan resumed commercial whaling in 2019, has influenced the decision. “There is little proof that there is any economic advantage to this activity,” Svandís Svavarsdóttir, the country’s fisheries minister, wrote in the newspaper Morgunblaðið. But experts also credit a 15-year-long campaign carried out largely by Icelanders and local whale-watching companies.

Whaling has been practised around Iceland since the early 1600s, but it wasn’t until the 19th century that steamships and explosive harpoons allowed US and European companies to hunt the animals on a large commercial scale.

Iceland stopped commercial whaling in 1985 and scientific whaling four years later under the international moratorium on commercial hunts. But commercial whaling resumed in 2006. Current annual quotas allow for 209 fin whales to be killed in Iceland, to be sent to Japan, along with 217 minke whales, which are eaten domestically…

Read the whole story here.

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