Thoughts From Seat 15F
I’m leaving Iceland for the second time in as many months and as I get over my surprise as the amount of carry on baggage I was able to get aboard, I take a minute to gather my thoughts on what to do next to help develop whale watching for the people of the West Fjords. I’m struck by the odd paradoxes that exist in this beautiful country. Iceland is remarkably ahead of most nations in their environmental policy. Iceland fights global warming by offering a number of opportunities to reduce ones carbon footprint. Hybrid and fuel efficient cars get a special sticker that gets them free parking and you can even fill up with hydrogen at many gas stations! Every car dealership offers a selection of clean burning diesel engines in many models, and oil heat is almost unheard of as everything is heated geothermally. On a smaller scale, the city of Reykjavik is reducing the amount of debris reaching the ocean by deploying street cleaning vehicles that tackle the town's trash by vacuuming up stray cigarette butts and other garbage that could easily be carried to the sea. Iceland’s environmental guidelines are a extraordinary juxtaposition against an archaic policy on whaling.
Gulli’s wife extended an invitation to dinner at their home my last
night in Iceland and after four days of eating out I couldn’t possibly
turn down a home cooked meal. Gulli picked me up and
had to make a quick stop on his way home to pick up a few things. Whenever I travel I love visiting a local
fish market, and this gave me just such an opportunity. I think you can tell
a lot about a community by the size, amount, color, and even smell of
indigenous seafood. I walked into the busy market and was immediately
handed a piece of fish on the end of a toothpick and was explained what
it was in Icelandic, a language which I do not speak a word of. I tried the morsel
of fish and the instant it hit my mouth I wanted to spit it out.
Without garbage nearby, and not wanting to appear disrespectful, I had no choice but to swallow. I’ve never
wanted to throw up more than at this moment. It tasted as
though I was gnawing on a piece of urine soaked beef jerky. I figured the taste had to come from a type of shark. (Fyi: Sharks pee in their blood stream so they have high amounts of urea which is how you alway know when you're driving by a dogfish processing plant.) I later
found out the sample was fermented Greenland shark. I wasn’t all that
thrilled with that because I keep a strict no shark eating policy due to
the depleted status of the fishery.
This was my second trip to an Icelandic fish market and again there
was no hint of anything whale, there is simply no market for it.
Unfortunately, one remains for Greenland sharks. That evening was
another one of many firsts. It was the first meal I’ve had in Iceland
in which fish wasn’t served. I also met Gulli’s four children. At
seven months Adam was the youngest and also the first Icelandic person
I’ve met whose name I could actually pronounce. Despite the language
barrier between us the seven-month-old Icelander and this 30-something
American communicated quite successfully in the international language of
It’s obvious Icelanders take special pride in their nation and I’m
not talking about the kind of pride that’s shown just by flying a flag
on July 4th. It’s a real dignity that one only gets after generations
thriving in this harsh windswept land bordering the Arctic Circle.
These characteristics become evident in everything from Icelandic boat
design and the staple role of fish in the local diet. Even the name of a popular clothing store, 66
degrees north, reflects their pride taken flourishing at this
latitude. (66 degrees Is the latitude of the Arctic Circle.) These
folks should be proud to be Icelandic and if I had roots here, I’d be proud too. However, no matter how proud one
is of their heritage it doesn’t afford credibility to the shameful act
of whaling. No culture, heritage, or location enables a
nation to lay claim to all ocean life. Whaling simply is not part of
Icelandic culture, protecting the environment is.
The Iceland's Minister of Fisheries, along with his Japanese
counterpart claim whales negatively impact fisheries. Regardless of
your position on protecting whales, no one outside these few
pro-whaling countries thinks that whales actually impact commercially
valuable fish stocks in any significant way. Of course whales eat some
fish, they don’t consume anywhere near the volume of fish taken by high
sea trawlers, factory ships, and pelagic driftnets. Nor do they have a
destructive impact on a fisheries reproductive success by destroying
essential fish habitat as trawl doors are guilty off. If culling
whales actually did impact fish stocks, wouldn’t the fisheries of
Norway and Japan be improving? They’re not. Regardless of whale
protection policy fisheries are declining around the world. The only
place to point blame is to all of us. Each nation plays a role in the
deterioration of global fisheries. Rather than arguing over the
ridiculousness of killing whales, what is needed is international
cooperation in protecting our global ocean. Fish, whales, birds and
even waves don’t recognize political bounds and ocean policy shouldn’t
either. If we’re going to actually end the hemorrhaging biodiversity
loss, retreating sea ice, and the rising global temperatures, every
nation must to work towards solutions to these global problems.
Iceland’s alternative fuel policy was the first step; ending whaling is
the obvious next.
As the flight attendant aboard Iceland Air flight 631 politely
reminded me to shut down my laptop and stow my tray table in the
upright position, I again jotted down three quick notes in my planner
before they escaped my mind.
1) Peek-a-boo transcends language barriers. Could this make
communication at the IWC more effective? Perhaps the only reason why
votes appear deadlocked is actually because no one has attempted
2) Think about how the West Fjord feasibility study could be quantified for an average Joe boat owner.
3) Never again eat something unknown when offered on a toothpick.