Visiting a Country That Once Hunted Whales

As the remaining passengers take their seats aboard Iceland Air’s direct flight to Boston, I realize I‘m departing Iceland with a far greater appreciation for whales, marine life, and especially the special people of Iceland, than I knew mere days ago.

Despite the fact I’ve worked aboard whale watching boats for half my life, I never knew Minke whales were able to breach.  I feel quite foolish admitting that, especially as a whale watch captain and marine biologist. In my whale watching years I’d often drive right past Minke whales in search of (what I assumed to be the more popular) Humpbacks. That was a big mistake...

Richard, owner of Sea Life Surveys in Scotland, quickly educated me on the finer points of watching Minke whales.  I had no idea the array of unique behaviors they exhibit.  I just assumed that they moved too quickly to watch, but it seems as though they actually come up to a still boat for a closer investigation.  Richard even claimed they breached. I didn’t believe him until he showed me a great picture of a Minke whale leaping out of the water. Sure enough, on our whale watch cruise the last day of my trip, I got the chance to see a Minke whale up close.

Iceland is a terrific place to visit; with scenic mountains, beautiful ports, unique horses, and a historic fishery, but the best part of this past week has been the opportunity getting to know the people of the entire region.  Without doubt, Icelanders are among the kindest people in the world. Gulli and Eva, from Elding whale watch were not only gracious hosts, but genuinely enjoyed sharing Iceland’s heritage and tales of Icelands fascinating history. 

Despite my inability to pronounce just about any word in the Icelandic language, each of them continued patiently attempting to teach me the language.  On a side note, I also realized I’ve got to learn how to make the rolling ‘r’ sound.  You know the sound I’m speaking of, think Ruffles potato chip commercials from a few years back.

Even when we weren’t discussing Icelandic tradition, language, or culture, their proud maritime heritage beamed without even uttering a single word. 
It wasn’t just native Icelanders that sparked my growing affection for the Scandinavian region, but attendees from Norway and Sweden as well.  On more than one occasion, people from Iceland and Norway voiced concern for commercial whaling, and wished it would come to an end.  If only their governments would listen, and follow the peoples will.  I guess the reports you hear are true, no one actually wants to hunt whales, no one eats whale, a small group believes whaling to be a proper activity as a symbol of their heritage. 

The truth is, Iceland has a proud heritage closely tied to the sea, but just like the US whaling doesn’t have to be a part of it.
The days of whaling are long gone, and tourists such as myself would much rather take a tour to view puffins or watch the unique variety of whales, than to support a country which may harm the very marine life tourists travel from afar to enjoy. If conversations over this past week are any indicator, people of Iceland and Norway undoubtedly know that watching, rather than killing whales brings tremendous prosperity.  Only by conserving their unique collection of whales will these countries continue a long and proud maritime heritage for countless generations to come.

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Ellie, an IFAW-UK campaigner simply states, “everyday’s school day.”  Certainly true this week, everyday has brought some new appreciation of a place, it's wildlife, and people, whom I've never met. Before curling up with my Iceland air fleece pillow and dozing off, I grabbed my planner from the seat pocket and made three quick notes in my to-do section.

1. Spend more time watching Minke whales.

2. Get a copy of speaking Icelandic for dummies and learn to roll my r’s...

3. Plan a return visit to my new friends and see more whales in Iceland real soon.

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