Taking the arguments against Icelandic whaling to Russia

IFAW UK Director Robbie Marsland delivers lecture to Geographical Society of RussiaThe Geographical Society of Russia is more than one hundred years old and has recently been given a new lease on life by Russia’s President Putin. It has fine offices around the corner from Red Square in Moscow which include an impressive lecture hall. A couple of months ago, I was invited to give a lecture there about the International Fund for Animal Welfare’s (IFAW) work in Iceland. I gave the lecture last week.

Moscow was unusually hot, around 31 degrees when I arrived, and everyone was muttering about climate change. The lecture was in the evening and around 40 people attended in person while an unknown number watched live on the Internet. The audience was made up of scientists, academics, business types and a variety of people interested enough to come out on a Thursday evening to hear me talk about what IFAW does in Iceland.

MORE: President Obama’s actions against Iceland for whale meat trade.

Working with an interpreter, I spoke for about an hour, taking a journey through Iceland’s background, the types of whales that are, regretfully, killed there, the reasons they are killed and what IFAW is trying to do to get Icelanders to think again about why one lone whaler, Kristjan Loftsson, can bring their lovely island into such disrepute. I showed slides of whales both dead and alive.

There were slides of Song of the Whale, the IFAW-designed state-of-the-art marine research vessel that visited Iceland on two occasions. I ended the presentation with a photo I took a couple of weeks ago in Reykjavik. It showed Hvalur 8, one of Mr Loftsson’s two functioning 1940s steam-driven whaling vessels. Usually, he keeps them in the Reykjavik old harbour – a brooding presence next to the jaunty whale watching boats that carry thousands of tourists each year who are keen to see whales alive, not dead. But a couple of weeks ago Hvalur 8 had been winched up into dry dock and my photo showed her high and dry, out of the water. 

My caption for this photo was ‘Where she belongs?’

I explained that Hvalur 8 would make a fantastic tourist attraction as a museum to whaling once whaling stops in Iceland. Sadly, this does not seem imminent, because the reason Hvalur 8 was in dry dock was for her to be serviced and maintained in advance of this year’s whaling season. 

This year, however, the odds are stacking against Mr Loftsson and those that support whaling. Public opinion has shifted against whaling. There are calls for evidence that whales are killed humanely. The Fisheries Minister has responded by insisting that there will be independent monitors on board for the first time to collect data about the whales killed. 

There is also a resolution in the Icelandic parliament, the Althingi, which calls for a review of whaling and its impact on Iceland’s huge and growing whale watching industry. And in the run-up to the election of a new mayor of Reykjavik, all eight candidates have backed the idea of extending the whale sanctuary and whale watching area to cover the entire vast bay, Faxafloi, that is centred on Reykjavik.

Through our staff in Iceland, IFAW has been involved in all of these developments and I ended my lecture by saying that I have been hugely encouraged by recent developments in Iceland. After all, the decision to end whaling will be made by Icelanders and IFAW has been working tirelessly for the past 11 years to turn the tide and to ask people what is the point of Icelandic whaling?

That question is now being asked in the Icelandic media, in the Icelandic parliament and by the growing Icelandic tourism industry.

After the lecture I took questions from the audience and by email from those watching online. I was pleased to hear supportive remarks and considered questions about the work that we have been doing in Iceland. I ended by thanking the Geographical Society of Russia for inviting me to speak.

I also noted that a project that both IFAW and the Society were associated with had been on that day’s TV news. I was sad that Masha Vorontsova, IFAW’s Russian Director, had been unable to be there that evening. The reason was that she was in the Russian Far East working on the release of orphaned tigers with the President of the Geographical Society of Russia himself - President Putin. 

A pretty good excuse…


Learn more IFAW’s work to defend whales at our website.  

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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