Iceland feeling pressure to address whaling

IFAW’s lobbying work with The National Organization of Icelandic Tourism and the Association of Whale Watching Operators led to a cross-party resolution concerning whale protection in Faxaflói Bay.When UK Prime Minister David Cameron emphasised his country’s opposition to commercial whaling at a meeting with his Icelandic counterpart in Reykjavík a few weeks ago, it was met with a standard answer: Iceland will not have foreigners telling it how to use its natural resources.

This was to be expected, but the pressure remains on the Icelandic government to end the cruel and unnecessary hunting of whales.

The same month, nine opposition MPs introduced a request for a thorough report on Iceland´s interests regarding commercial whaling, in particular what effect whaling has on Iceland´s relations with the US. It is directed to Mr Gunnar Bragi Sveinsson, Minister of Foreign Affairs, who is expected to introduce the report in Iceland´s parliament – The Althingi - in January 2016.

US disapproval of the whaling has been evident since George W Bush was in the White House and President Obama has twice reinforced the US position. No US Secretary of State has been to Iceland since 2008, nor has any other high level US politician and there has been no invitation issued to Iceland´s President or Prime Minister to visit the White House.

Iceland remains out in the cold diplomatically because of this unpopular activity and public support for it, within Iceland, has been falling sharply since 2013 according to a recent Gallup poll.

Slowly but surely Icelandic politicians are realising that the country’s whaling is a hindrance to improved relations between these two old allies. But many other countries are also on the list of those opposing commercial whaling in Iceland. The report request asks the Foreign Minister to list them all.

Political parties in Iceland don´t mention whaling any more in their manifestos, except for the Left Green Party. Recently this party, which held both ministry of fisheries and environment in the previous administration, stated that it wants whaling to end because of animal welfare reasons. The International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) has worked and campaigned for 13 years in Iceland with the message that there is no humane way to kill a whale; that position is now gaining ground.

For more than a decade, IFAW has been in close contact with Icelandic politicians both at national and municipality level. Our lobbying work along with SAF (The National Organization of Icelandic Tourism) and Icewhale (the Association of Whale Watching Operators), led to a cross-party resolution being passed in Reykjavík City Council about Faxaflói Bay, where the minke whaling happens, calling for it to be declared a sanctuary for whales. Reykjavik City is now following up on that resolution but it will eventually be up to the Minister of Fisheries to decide.

This summer, Foreign Minister Sveinsson repeated his earlier statement that the fin whaling is damaging to Iceland´s wider interests and became the first Foreign Minister in the history of Iceland to openly criticise the whaling. Now he will have the chance to explain in detail how whaling is hurting Iceland.

This could be the turning point we have been striving for. This summer IFAW´s campaign ‘Meet Us Don´t Eat Us’, aimed mainly at tourists, was seen by 350,000 tourists in Iceland according to our survey and never before have there been as many ‘Whale Friendly Restaurants’, pledging not to serve whale meat, in Reykjavík. IFAW has managed to bring down demand for whale meat despite an increase in tourism of more than 100% over the last four years.

For the third year in a row less than 30 minke whales were killed this season out of a quota of 229.

To stop the fin whaling, on the other hand, we need the politicians to understand that it is in Iceland´s interest to put an end to this cruel and unnecessary activity. The public is beginning to understand it and I believe the report from the Foreign Minister will be helpful in making further progress so that 2016 will be a better year for whales around Iceland.


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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