Whale Day brings awareness in Iceland

Record numbers come together to celebrate whales in Iceland - despite harpoons trained on endangered fin whales

whale day in iceland june 2018

A record number of Icelanders and visiting travelers came out to celebrate whales and show their support for whale protection in Iceland this Whale Day, 29 June 2018. It was a spectacular day that IFAW is proud to play such a big part in, despite a backdrop where the first fin whaling vessel of the year left the harbour to resume its hunt.

Whale Day activities took place around Reykjavik’s Old Harbour area, as local people in Iceland’s capital – supported by our team at IFAW, the IceWhale whale watch coalition, and dozens of other local businesses, groups, artisans, musicians and more – showed their appreciation for whales and the marine environment.

hosts of IFAW's meet us dont eat us campaign to protect whales in iceland

At the same time, IFAW launched the next stage of our annual Meet Us Don’t Eat Us campaign. Our goal is to help inform travellers about whale protection and the value of whale watching rather than the killing of whales for food. Visitors themselves are key in encouraging responsible tourism, and since the start of our campaign in 2011, more than 500 visiting 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 bring this peer-to-peer education experience to life. We are delighted to engage with Airbnb’s global community, who will help spread the word to other visitors in a fun, dynamic way.

whales of iceland museum in reykjavik iceland

Supporting responsible whale watching, instead of whaling, is better for Icelanders, as well as for whales.

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 visitors alike value whales and want to see them protected. We were very pleased to come 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.

In early June, Kristjan Loftsson, CEO of Hvalur hf – the only company still involved in Icelandic fin whaling – announced the company’s intention to resume the hunting and killing of fin whales, with a 2018 quota of 238 individuals. Fin whales are our planet’s second largest whale species, and they are endangered.

Loftsson’s company killed 155 fin whales in 2015, chiefly for the Japanese market. There had been no fin whaling in Iceland since this time, after Loftsson himself cited difficulties in trading the meat with Japan.

UPDATE: July 2018 reports indicate blue whale or rare blue/fin whale hybrid killed by Icelandic whaling operation.

Minke whaling is also 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.

Fin whale meat has not traditionally been eaten by Icelanders; it is instead being shipped to Japan in an expensive attempt to establish a market there. Meanwhile, domestic demand is in sharp decline due to increased awareness among travellers that most of this meat is falsely marketed to them as "traditional cuisine" in Iceland. Moreover, a humane way to kill a whale does not exist.

Our high-profile Meet Us Don't Eat Us campaign is changing minds and saving lives.

How can you help? Spread the word!

  • Speak up: The global movement for whale conservation has far more support than whaling, and IFAW is encouraging the Icelandic government to issue no further whaling quotas and ensure that commercial whaling is consigned to the history books.
  • Meet whales: 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.
  • Don’t eat whales: 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 and sign our petition visit www.ifaw.is.

The Meet Us Don’t Eat Us Airbnb Experience will run from July to August 2018.

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Brian Sharp, Emergency Relief Officer, Stranding Coordinator
Manager, Marine Mammal Rescue and Research
Dr. Maria (Masha) N. Vorontsova, Senior Advisor to the IFAW Marine Conservation
Senior Advisor to the IFAW Marine Conservation Program
Matt Collis, Director, International Policy
Director, International Policy
Patrick Ramage, Program Director, Whales
Program Director, Marine Conservation