Icelanders, tourists create Iceland’s largest online petition ever, pledge not to eat whale meat

Artists Högni Egilsson (pictured), Sóley, Sindri and DJ Margeir can be found on the ifaw.is homepage declaring that they are Icelandic and don’t eat whale meat.Outside of the International Fund for Animal Welfare’s quaint but cozy cabin on Reykjavík Harbor, the lyrics to the Beatles song “Yellow Submarine” can be heard while IFAW volunteers are giving away waffles and collecting signatures from tourists.

In previous summers these volunteers have collected 67,000 signatures on postcards that were delivered to the Minister of Fisheries here in Iceland.  

This summer, an additional 21,000 have been collected online.  

The volunteers now walk the streets with iPads instead of piles of postcards, and our many Icelandic friends are assisting IFAW with marketing the campaign on Facebook.

One such volunteer who is using an iPad to spread the message is Arda Yaygci from Turkey, who despite the recent turmoil in his country, has constantly had a smile on his face as he informs tourists about the Meet Us Don’t Eat Us campaign. 

Despite being anxious about his parents in Ankara, Arda has steadfastly collected numerous signatures on his iPad.

The first thing people will notice about the newly launched www.ifaw.is site is the image of Högni Egilsson. Högni looks like the prototypical Viking from the early days of Iceland. Högni is a huge celebrity in Iceland and quite well known to passionate music fans around the globe, especially since he is a front man for two famous Icelandic bands, Hjaltalín and Gus Gus.

In addition to Högni, artists Sóley, Sindri and DJ Margeir can be found on the homepage declaring that they are Icelandic and don’t eat whale meat.

These Icelandic musicians are helping IFAW reach 100,000 signatures.

In doing so, this campaign will become the largest single domestic petition within Iceland by a fair margin of close to 23,000 signatures.

That number is very impressive considering only 330,000 people live in Iceland.

When the Meet Us Don’t Eat Us campaign reaches this goal in late August, a concert for whales will be held in Iceland celebrating this milestone. All of the aforementioned artists will perform in Whales of Iceland, the largest whale exhibition in Europe and tickets are now available at www.tix.is.

While the Meet Us Don´t Eat Us campaign has an international message it still is rooted and implemented in Iceland, just as IFAW’s approach has been since 2003 when whaling resumed here. 

IFAW understands that pressure for change cannot mainly come from abroad especially when we are dealing with tricky issues such as national attitudes, feelings and beliefs that have been more or less unchallenged domestically for so long that they have become part of the national identity. Because of IFAW’s work in Iceland, celebrities within the country are willing to step forward and criticize what are now considered antiquated beliefs.

A crucial part of this success is that Icelanders like me (with assistance from my Icelandic colleague Marvin) have spearheaded the campaign by changing hearts and minds diplomatically, without coercive or confrontational methods.

IFAW has changed the landscape in Iceland for the better for whales. The entrenched and pro-whaling attitude is slowly vanishing as we have systematically built bridges between different stakeholders. As a result, the pro-whaling sentiment is diminishing.  

Fin whaling has ceased, minke whaling is at its lowest level and Reykjavík City Council, The Icelandic Tourism Association and Icewhale (Association of Whale Watching Operators) support our call for a sanctuary for whales. Four out of six political parties in the Icelandic Parliament are supportive.

Opinion polls show the same trend.

Further proof of this shift is the fact that the majority of tour guides onboard whale watching ships in Akureyri and Reykavík now sport sweaters designed for the campaign and frequently mention the online petition.

More than 70 restaurants are now whale-friendly in Iceland since the initiative began two summers ago. This declaration is shown with stickers at the doors of the establishments stating that they will not sell whale meat. This summer some 10 new restaurants have been added to the list.

This makes the majority of restaurants in Reykjavik as well as Akureyri, the capital of north Iceland, whale-friendly.

In Husavik, sometimes called the whale watching capital of Europe, every single restaurant is listed as whale- friendly. All the whale-friendly restaurants can be found here.

Many thanks to the Icelandic volunteer organization SEEDS, which has gathered people from Slovakia, Poland, Belarus, Russia, South Korea and Spain this time (in the past we have had volunteers from Cameroon, Hungary Croatia, Serbia just to name a few).

The groups of volunteers that come here are different, interesting and positive. In one hour, this group will be in the ministry looking the officials in the eyes as they describe what they are thinking, what they think of whaling and why they are here.

It is a moment of truth they will all remember. I always do, too.

--SM

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Azzedine Downes,IFAW President and CEO
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Beth Allgood, Country Director, United States
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Cynthia Milburn, Director, Animal Welfare Outreach & Education
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Dr. Joseph Okori
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Faye Cuevas, Esq.
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Matt Collis, Director, International Policy
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Patrick Ramage, Program Director, Whales
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Rikkert Reijnen, Program Director, Wildlife Crime
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