IWC65: EU protest pointless whaling in Iceland, will Reykjavík listen?

Flensing the first harpooned fin whale of 2013 at Hvalfjordur whaling station. c. IFAW/Einar Magnus MagnussonA demarche agreed by all 28 European Union member states was introduced today, September 15, as government delegations from around 80 member countries came together in Slovenia for day one of the 65th meeting of the International Whaling Commission (IWC).

This is the third demarche in recent years where many of Iceland´s closest friends and allies from the international family of states express their opposition to commercial whaling in Iceland, particularly the killing of endangered fin whales, which undermines international protection efforts and goes against IWC policy since 1982.

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In the past Icelandic governments have pretended it was simply not happening and adopted a ‘business as usual’ stance but never before has the entire European Union and its 28-member states introduced such a protest against Icelandic activity.

Earlier this year President Obama verified and explained diplomatic actions against Iceland which led to Iceland being left in the cold, not invited to an important conference on ocean issues, “Our Ocean”, hosted by John Kerry, Secretary of State in Washington in June.

Then the Icelandic government reacted by stating that the US was an even bigger whaling nation than Iceland, which is fundamentally wrong, and quite an embarrassing reaction when considering the facts of the matter.

Watching this here from Reykjavík it seems that an old fashioned populism is playing a strong role in the local discussion about whaling.

A big part of the local support has been brought about by government PR strategy, the idea that this is about OUR sort of national whaling and OUR NATIONAL SOVEREIGN RIGHT.

The whaling, conducted by just two Icelandic companies, is always called ICELAND or ICELANDIC whaling, as though the whole nation was out there with harpoons and controlled by their primitive killing instinct, slaughtering those “native Icelandic animals”.

International statements and protests unfortunately use the same language.

This is despite the fact that less then 3% of Icelanders say they eat whale meat regularly in a Gallup poll conducted for IFAW in October 2013 and that polls and other research show fading support for the killings.

Even though whale watching is many times more important for Iceland than whaling, the government never talks about OUR whale watching…

The minke whaling is conducted by two boats in total for part of the year and the hunt for endangered fin whales is controlled by one man in his seventies.

The Icelandic nation has very little to do with this activity and shows no interest in it except when national sentiments are stirred up around it because of foreign pressure.

And that brings us back to the EU demarche introduced today, September 15.

Will Reykjavík pay any attention to it?

Now that the whole group of 28 EU States has reinforced its support for an international ban on commercial whaling, will the Icelandic PM again stand up in the Althingi, (a more than 1,000-year-old democratic institution founded where the tectonic plates of North America and Eurasia are visually moving apart), and claim that Europe has no moral ground to criticise ICELAND´S whaling just as he did when President Obama introduced his government’s action and criticised Iceland for undermining international efforts to protect whales?

Whaling plays only a small part in the history of Icelanders. From 1880 and until 1928 there was widespread opposition to the foreign commercial whaling but until then no Icelandic companies conducted industrial whaling.

I haven´t come across any document showing an anti-whaling movement older than the Icelandic one and neither do I know of any earlier legislation than the Icelandic one, banning whaling completely from 1913 until 1928, despite international pressure to lift the whaling ban and allow the big whaling fleets back in.

The first Icelandic commercial whaling started only in 1948 or when foreign whaling fleets had driven the right whale around Iceland almost to extinction during 234 years of intense whaling. It is important to know this history in order to sensibly discuss the issue but unfortunately, it has not been taught in Icelandic schools.

Iceland´s struggle for independence in the 19th and 20th Century was marked by anti-whaling sentiments demonstrated at public meetings in north and east Iceland and progressive laws banning whaling.

Now with whale watching at least 10 times more important for Iceland´s economy, ever growing tourism and a clear world opinion for protection of whales, Iceland´s choice should be an easy one. Many of the EU countries now protesting the pointless whaling west of Iceland were much bigger whaling nations than Iceland.

It makes no sense to create a further gap on this issue as Iceland has probably the longest anti-whaling history of them all.

It is in everybody´s interests that we learn from history and make sensible decisions based on real interests, both human and natural.


For more information on IFAW efforts to end commercial whaling, visit our campaign page.

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