British MPs show support for whales in Iceland
The International Fund for Animal Welfare’s state-of-the-art marine research vessel Song of the Whale is always a big draw, and its presence in Iceland this summer provided an ideal opportunity to take a cross-party group of British MPs to see the work we are doing there to end commercial whaling.
I was delighted to be joined by MPs from all three major parties in the UK. The Conservative and Liberal Democrat partners in the Coalition Government were represented by Tracey Crouch MP and John Leech MP respectively, whilst our Labour representative, Tom Harris MP, is the Shadow Minister for the Natural Environment, and so would be responsible for whales if Labour won the next election.
Despite their differences (and there was a fair amount of political teasing), the MPs were united in their support of IFAW and their interest in protecting whales around the world. We are fortunate in the UK that all the major parties are broadly behind the need to conserve endangered species; I am sure due in large part to the pressure exerted by supporters of IFAW and other animal welfare organisations.
The highlight for all of us was a trip on Song of the Whale around Faxafloi, the large bay surrounding Iceland’s capital, Reykjavik. We got to see at first hand the cutting edge research the dedicated crew undertake to further our understanding of whales and the best means to protect them from harm. Most unforgettable of all, though, was the opportunity to see minke whales at close quarters. It is impossible to be unmoved at the sight of these majestic creatures, and the MPs came away even more convinced of the need to protect these wonderful animals.
As a result, the MPs were all happy to lend their support to IFAW’s campaign to establish a whale sanctuary in Faxafloi to protect minkes from whaling. A meeting with the Icelandic Whale Watching Association, Ice Whale, which is closely involved in the campaign, was very productive whilst readers of Morgunbladid, Iceland’s most influential newspaper, will have been left in no doubt about the strength of opposition to whaling in the UK.
The MPs also met representatives of their sister parties in Iceland. There is support for whaling across the political spectrum in Iceland but particularly amongst the centrist Progressive party and centre-right Independence party. Nevertheless, the MPs from those parties warmly welcomed John and Tracey respectively, and provided personal guided tours of the Althingi, Iceland’s Parliament. Quite a bit smaller than our Parliament in the UK, but with a similarly interesting history, the tour was made even more engaging by our earlier trip to see the site of the original Althingi, the world’s oldest Parliament.
This cordiality didn’t prevent a robust conversation about whaling, and whilst the local MPs did not immediately change their point of view, I am sure they will have been given significant food for thought. Tom’s meeting with the centre-left Social Democrat MP was quite different. Not only was the individual MP one of the few opposed to whaling, and so we instead had a useful conversation about how each side could help bring about an end to this cruel practice, but the setting for the meeting was none other than the Prime Minister’s office. We felt very privileged!
We were similarly privileged to be welcomed to Iceland by the British Ambassador, Ian Whitting OBE. He didn’t need convincing of the merits of our cause, having been working behind the scenes on the issue on behalf of the Government for as long as he’d been in post, but it was a useful reminder for him that people from all walks of life in Britain continue to care very much about whales.
Our trip ended in a seemingly more light-hearted fashion as the MPs demonstrated their ability to not take themselves too seriously by donning our fibreglass whale tails and promoting our ‘Meet Us, Don’t Eat Us’ campaign. Of course, given the impact on whales from tourists eating whale meat, the campaign is anything but light-hearted, and the MPs left Iceland committed to convincing their constituents and the wider public of the importance of this message. There is no humane way to kill a whale, and so long as there remains demand for whale meat, these highly intelligent, sociable, magnificent animals will continue to meet a horrific end. The campaign continues.