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

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Azzedine Downes,IFAW President and CEO
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