Are we beginning to see the end of whaling in Iceland?
As I travelled to Iceland on Sunday evening I was thinking about how all the pieces of our anti-whaling campaign in the country were kind of falling into place...
Fin whaling seems to have come to a quiet end. It always looked like a financially doomed enterprise and now for the second year running the 1940s steam-driven whaling boats have stayed in harbour. Our quiet insistence that fin whaling is a dying industry seems now to be common currency in Iceland.
‘Meet Us Don't Eat Us’, our campaign which asks tourists not to eat whale meat, has just completed a second successful summer season and we have handed in 16,000 signed postcards to the Fisheries Ministry. The cards state opposition to whaling and a pledge not to eat whale meat. We are enormously encouraged that although the campaign is aimed at tourists, 1,000 of these cards were signed by Icelanders.
The International Fund for Animal Welfare's state-of-the-art marine research vessel, Song of the Whale, has just completed its third trip to Icelandic waters, having arrived just in time to join with whale watching boats in a successful effort to prevent a large pod of pilot whales from stranding. On this trip, the boat was undertaking ground-breaking research into base level minke whale behaviour.
The data collected will be invaluable in helping make sure that whale watching boats interact safely with the whales they watch. The boat had also attracted a cross-party group of UK MPs and an MEP to visit and to meet with Icelandic counterparts and explain their objection to the cruelty of whaling. And of course, UK celebrity Bill Oddie had come out to the boat and spread his own special brand of humour and conservation messaging.
Last year the Minke Whalers Association killed around 60 minke whales for domestic use, 40% of which they said was for the tourist market. This year, they only killed 29 and our survey of 1,300 tourists leaving Iceland revealed that less than 20% of tourists had eaten whale meat while in the country. Our Meet Us Don't Eat Us campaign really seems to have worked.
A week ago a cross-party proposal to make the entire Faxafloi bay a whale sanctuary had been put before the Althingi (the Icelandic Parliament) and on Monday evening IFAW and Ice Whale, the Iceland Whale Watching Association, hosted a reception at Harpa, the new concert hall where we had invited the Minister of the Environment to speak and publicly support the call for the sanctuary. Such a sanctuary would effectively end minke whaling in Iceland.
At the reception, the Environment Minister did us proud and called for the sanctuary. The Dean of the Science Faculty of the University of Iceland and the chairman of the Icelandic Tourism Association also called for the sanctuary. In my speech I noted that we were proud to be in partnership with Icelandic academia, whale watchers, the tourism industry and the Ministry of Environment.
Flying back to London for a badger campaign launch with Brian May, I'm wondering if we are nearly there in ending the cruel and unnecessary practice of whaling in Iceland...