Volunteer humpbacks take pride in waving Icelandic tourists away from eating whale meat

This video captures some of the tourists who were approached during the “Meet Us Don’t Eat Us” campaign efforts.

On Friday June 15, 13 volunteers from Korea, France, United Kingdom, China, Mexico, Ukraine, Russia, Spain and Slovakia, along with two International Fund for Animal Welfare humpback whales, marched from Reykjavík harbour to the Icelandic Ministry of Fisheries.

Their purpose? To hand in 2,071 postcards signed by foreign visitors in just two weeks during their visit to downtown Reykjavík.

In six languages people promised not to eat whale meat in Iceland and also asked Iceland to stop whaling. The two “humpbacks” are big whale tail costumes with one volunteer in each.

The whale tails draw lots of attention to our “Meet Us Don´t Eat Us” campaign, now entering its second summer. The aim is to encourage tourists to enjoy responsible whale watching, but to avoid eating whale meat.

In recent years more restaurants have started offering whale meat on their menus. Tourists are told it is a traditional Icelandic dish when in fact only around 5% eat it regularly according to a Gallup poll.

I remember as a child that whale meat was considered a bad tasting food some people ate late in the summer because it was cheap. It is certainly not a popular food in my country.

Now tourists are tasting whale carpaccio, whale tapas and other strange dishes, unknowingly contributing to the number of whales killed on such a scale that they are in fact making the cruel and unnecessary whaling operation possible in Iceland.

The postcards were collected in the first two weeks of this summer's campaign and every two weeks a new group of volunteers will go to the Fisheries Ministry with more.

Many tourists are surprised Iceland is still whaling when they see the flourishing whale watching businesses in Reykjavík´s old harbour.

A young man from Germany said he had planned to try a whale steak that evening but after meeting the volunteers and signing a postcard he was going to order something else.

A woman from the US staying at Reykjavík Hilton said she was angry that the hotel restaurant is selling whale meat. She took many leaflets to the hotel and planned to complain to the management.

Around 100 Icelanders have also already asked to sign the postcards even though the campaign is aimed at tourists. In general Icelanders are kind to the volunteers with few exceptions.

As our excited and joyful group of international volunteers walked to the Ministry, the bag with the postcards was so heavy that two people had to carry it.

They have come a long way to help remind other foreign visitors where they come from and what they stand for. Over 80% of tourists say in questionnaires that they oppose whaling in Iceland but surprisingly many of them still taste whale meat.

With a steady rise in the number of tourists coming to Iceland from less than 500,000 in 2010 to more than 700,000 expected this year, it is vital that we reach these tourists with our message of whale conservation.

In comparison, the total population in Iceland is just 320,000.

Despite growing tourism and the number of restaurants selling whale meat, there is some positive news for whales.

  • In the last three years, the number of minke whales killed has been going down, from 75 to 58 last year.
  • Fin whaling has been stopped for a second year and hopefully is now consigned to the history books.

On the smiling faces of the volunteers it is obvious they feel they have made a difference.

An elderly American couple stops us for a picture of the whale tails. "We signed a postcard yesterday", they say, adding: "Thank you for the work you are doing."

The young group has heard it many times before and it feels good.

When Mr Valdimar Halldorsson, the political assistant to the Minister of Fisheries, steps out of the front door of the big white building by the sea, each volunteer hands him a large pile of postcards.

He seems impressed.

Halldorsson shakes hands with all the volunteers as he tries to get a grip on the 2,071 postcards he is being given.

They explain to him that for them whale protection is important and that they hope Iceland will stop whaling.

He tells them he will let the Minister know about the visit and expresses his gratitude.

As he attempts to carry the postcards into the Ministry, after politely rejecting assistance, he calls over to me: "Could you please send me a photo of this?"

-- SM

Comments: 8

6 years ago

I've always wanted to visit Iceland - not just to see the Whales, but to see the magnificent countryside. However, I've always resisted as I did not want to support an economy that supported whaling.
Having read this article, I am more encouraged to visit, does anyone know if there are any guides for tourists on how to avoid restaurants, companies and hotels which support whaling?



6 years ago


6 years ago

I lived in Iceland for several years, many years ago, and I remember tasting whale meat once (it MUST have been by mistake - I have always abhorred whaling) and it was disgusting! The Icelanders knew this and found my reaction greatly amusing as they told me that most Icelanders don't eat it; it's mainly for tourist and export purposes. I loved the Icelanders, their country and culture, but absolutely hated the whaling industry. Unfortunately, I also found, over the years that I lived in Iceland, that they are a very stubborn nation and hate being told what to do by any other country! I really do hope that they are coming to their own realisation that whaling in totally unnecessary and barbaric in the extreme to these wonderful creatures. I wish the very best of luck to everybody involved in this campaign and salute all your fantastic efforts - I really hope that it will be successful and I will be watching the website eagerly for updates

6 years ago

Thank you for all you do to protect the whales,I hope one day there will be no whaling -anywhere.

6 years ago

I was born in Iceland, and have never and would never eat whales. As for not eating any animals, that would result in a very restricted diet for the population, with the likelihood of most of the countries food being imported and limited means to pay for it (fishing being a major source of revenue.)


6 years ago

I was in Reykjavik recently and found it quite disturbing to see people walk off the boats, cross the street and straight in to a restaurant selling minke whale!

6 years ago

Nice article! Just one thing that rubs me the wrong way.

"Tourists are told it is a traditional Icelandic dish when in fact only around 5% eat it regularly according to a Gallup poll."

Things can be traditional without the population engaging in the activity regularly. Although Icelanders would stop eating whale entirely, the dish would still be a traditional Icelandic meal.

6 years ago

Why only whales? Please stop eating ANY animals.

6 years ago

Ik heb die gastjes bezig gezien, zelfs een kaartje getekend. Toch enkele bedenkingen: ze weten absoluut niet waar ze mee bezig zijn. Het was zielig om te zien hoe ze op hat einde van de dag met een "campagneleider"veronderstel ik zaten na te praten. Maar toen ik hen vroeg of ze Sea Shepherd Conservation Society kenden, vielen ze uit de lucht: neen nog nooit van gehoord. Ze zitten te vergaderen vlak tegenover twee walvisjagerschepen, de Hvalur 8 en Hvalur 9 en weten niet dat dit walvisjagers zijn: ah zien die er zo uit??? Een eindje verder ligt een zgn factory ship en ook daarvan zijn zij zich niet bewust.
Het is goed, zeer goed en moedig dat zo'n jonge mensen zich inzetten voor de natuur en dieren. Maar een beetje kritisch denken, opzoeken en behoorlijke begeleiding zouden op zijnminst niet misstaan. En daar schoten jullie als organisatie schromelijk tekort....

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