Thousands celebrate whales and whale watching in Iceland

Saturday, 30 June, 2018

Thousands of Icelanders and visiting tourists are expected to celebrate whales and show their support for whale protection in Iceland this weekend, despite a resumption of fin whaling in Icelandic waters in recent days.

Whale Day activities will be taking place around Reykjavik’s Old Harbour area tomorrow (Saturday) as local people in Iceland’s capital, supported by the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW), whale watch coalition IceWhale and dozens of local businesses and groups show their appreciation of whales and the marine environment.

At the same time, IFAW launches the next stage of the annual ‘Meet Us Don’t Eat Us’ campaign, to help inform tourists about whale protection and the value of whale watching rather than the killing of whales for food. Visitors themselves are key in helping encourage responsible tourism behaviour, and since the inauguration of the campaign in 2011, more than 500 tourist volunteers from all over the world have participated. This year, Meet Us Don’t Eat Us is offering an exclusive experience on Airbnb’s Experience Social Impact Platform to make the campaign activity and whale conservation education more accessible and fun for all.

Patrick Ramage, IFAW’s Marine Conservation Programme Director, said: “Iceland is an amazing country and one of the best locations in Europe for whale watching, with its waters playing host to a diverse array of whale species. Many Icelanders and tourists alike value whales and want to see them protected so we are very pleased to be coming together for Whale Day in Reykjavik. While the appetite for whale meat in Iceland has been dying for many years, by contrast its whale watching industry is booming.

“We are delighted to offer our successful Meet Us Don’t Eat Us campaign to Airbnb’s global community, who will help spread the word to other visitors that supporting responsible whale watching, instead of whaling, is better for Icelanders, as well as whales.”

Kristjan Loftsson, CEO of Hvalur hf, the only company involved in Icelandic fin whaling, announced his intention to resume killing the planet’s second largest whale species earlier this year and the first harpooned fin whale of the season was brought back to land last week, from an overall quota of 190 fin whales. Loftsson’s company last killed 155 fin whales in 2015, chiefly for the Japanese market. There had been no fin whaling in Iceland since this time, after Loftsson cited difficulties in trading the meat with Japan.

Minke whaling is also currently taking place in Iceland with a self-allocated annual kill quota of 269 minke whales, though a fraction of this quota is usually taken. A total of 17 minke whales were harpooned during last summer’s whaling season, compared to 46 in 2016. While fin whale meat has not traditionally been eaten by Icelanders, minke whale meat is sold within the country, though the majority of it is eaten by curious tourists.

IFAW opposes all commercial whaling as it is inherently cruel; there is no humane way to kill a whale. There is also little demand for whale meat among Icelanders with recent Gallup polling commissioned by IFAW showing only 1% of Icelanders claim to eat whale meat regularly and 81% have never eaten it. Polling also revealed that Icelandic support for fin whaling has significantly reduced, with 35.4% now declaring they are in favour of fin whaling, compared to 42% in 2016. Just four years ago, similar polling found 56.9% in favour of fin whaling, around 20% higher.*

In conjunction with Icelandic whale watching coalition Icewhale, IFAW launched its original ‘Meet Us Don’t Eat Us’ campaign in 2011 to educate tourists about the realities of whaling and whale meat. The percentage of tourists who claimed to have tasted whale meat in Iceland was 40% according to research carried out in 2009. Since the launch of Meet Us Don’t Eat Us this figure has been drastically reduced, with IFAW surveys revealing 11.4% of tourists in Iceland had sampled whale meat in 2017.

With the global movement for whale conservation having far more support than whaling, IFAW is encouraging the Icelandic government to issue no further whaling quotas and ensure that commercial whaling is consigned to the history books.

Whale watching is one of the top tourist attractions in Iceland, generating around £20 million annually. More than 350,000 people go whale watching each year in Iceland, proving that whales are worth far more to the Icelandic economy alive than dead.

More than half of restaurants in downtown Reykjavik have signed up to be ‘Whale Friendly’ with a pledge not to serve whale meat, and less than 10% of restaurants in this area have whale meat on their menus.

To support IFAW’s efforts to protect whales in Iceland, find out more about Meet Us Don’t Eat Us or to sign our whales petition visit www.ifaw.is

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Brian Sharp, Emergency Relief Officer, Stranding Coordinator
Manager, Marine Mammal Rescue and Research
Dr. Maria (Masha) N. Vorontsova, Regional Director, Russia & CIS
Regional Director, Russia & CIS
Matt Collis, Director, International Policy
Director, International Policy
Patrick Ramage, Program Director, Whales
Program Director, Marine Conservation