Meet Us Don’t Eat Us: Campaign to take whale meat off the menu for tourists

Tourists who visit Iceland during the summer may be greeted by a high-profile campaign from IFAW and Ice Whale (Icelandic Whale Watching Association), encouraging them to enjoy responsible whale watching but to avoid sampling whale meat.

Meet us don't eat us!

The campaign, “Meet Us Don’t Eat Us” is aimed at dispelling the myth some tourists believe that whale meat is a popular dish enjoyed by most Icelanders. However, according to a 2010 Gallup poll survey, only about 5% of Icelanders say they eat it regularly.

Similarly, many people believe Iceland’s commercial whaling is a centuries-old tradition, but in reality it started in 1948 and stopped in 1989, with a few boats resuming minke whaling in 2003, initially for so-called scientific research.

IFAW believes an estimated 40% of tourists are persuaded to eat whale meat while in Iceland, mainly out of curiosity. The result is that whales are killed every year just to be sampled by tourists.

The Meet Us Don’t Eat Us campaign urges visitors to think carefully about the menu choices they make in the country’s excellent restaurants to ensure they don’t go home with a bad taste in their mouths.

The campaign, which runs from June to September, is being promoted around Reykjavik by volunteers dressed in whale tail costumes. The volunteers will be talking to tourists in downtown Reykjavik and asking them to sign postcards promising to avoid whale meat and asking Iceland to stop whaling.

The campaign, which ran for the first time in 2011, has ruffled some feathers in Iceland. Despite IFAW signing and paying a four-month contract to place adverts in Keflavik Airport last year, the airport’s general manager ordered IFAW to remove them shortly after they went on display following complaints from whalers. The campaign then sparked a major media debate in the country on the issue of free speech and IFAW was delighted to see many Icelanders, including politicians, speak out in defence of the campaign.

In early May, 2012 Kristjan Loftsson, the lone Icelandic whaler responsible for killing 280 endangered fin whales in Icelandic waters over the past six years, told Icelandic media that because of economic issues, including difficulties in trading the meat with Japan following its tsunami tragedy, he would not be fin whaling in 2012. This is the second year in a row that Loftsson has cancelled the hunt, having laid off 30 staff last year. IFAW welcomed this decision and sees it as a positive sign that Loftsson recognises that fin whaling is uneconomic. Icelanders traditionally do not eat fin whale meat and these whales have been killed with a view to selling the meat to Japan, which has so far met with little success.

However, commercial hunting of minke whales in Iceland continues. In total, 58 minke whales were killed last season, by two companies. This was from a self-allocated catch limit of 216. IFAW urges Iceland to end all whaling now to protect whales for future generations and to safeguard its successful whale watching industry.

IFAW ran the first workshop looking into the feasibility of whale watching in Iceland more than 20 years ago and has worked closely with Icelandic whale watch operators for several years to promote whale watching as a humane and profitable alternative to the cruelty of whaling.