Commercial Whaling Versus Whale Watching

The following essay is authored by Asbjörn Björgvinsson, Chairman of the Icelandic Whale Watching Association ?Manager for the Húsavík Whale Museum and ?A global 500 Laureate.  It gives a great background on Iceland's whaling versus whale watching industries.

On the 17th of October 2006 Iceland’s fisheries minister Mr. Einar K. Gudfinsson announced that he had decided to allow resumption of commercial whaling. Commercial whaling came to an end in 1985 according to the IWC Moratorium on whaling. The Icelandic Government still, claimed that Iceland would continue hunting whales as a part of their (so called) “scientific whaling” program, in accordance with article 8 of the International Convention for the Regulation of Whaling (ICRW). ??

??Commenced in the early 1990’s with only a few hundred customers, more than 89,000 people went whale watching in 2006. This rapid growth and additional revenue for little communities and the Icelandic economy gives tourism in Iceland a new dimension. ?See the following graph: ??The number of whale watching tourists in Iceland 1995 - 2006 ?


Whaling ceased in 1989, after years of struggle and an international boycott campaign against Iceland’s fisheries products, organized by Greenpeace.? In the early 1990’s Icelanders found a new sustainable and much more profitable way to utilize the whale stocks around Iceland. Whale watching has rapidly become one of the most popular aspects of tourism in Iceland and at present, is conducted with little or non impact on whales.

Even so… The Icelandic Government decided to permit scientific whaling in August 2003. Including this years whaling season a total of 160 minke whales have been killed, their stomach contents examined and some of the meat sold on the local market. (See the following attachment, showing all the locations where Minke whales have been killed in 2003-2005.)

The Icelandic Whale Watching Association has strongly condemned the hunt for being unnecessary and damaging for the whale watching business and Iceland’s image.

Ignoring the Importance

It is inevitable for the government to take whale watching into consideration as an important economic factor when considering the whaling issue. Many politicians, however, have yet to rethink their position. The economical importance of whale watching is already almost as high as the contribution of whaling during its peak 1950-1980. In the years of "scientific" whaling 1985-1989, however its annual income was estimated to be close to 3-4 million US$.

??In the economical report of 2003 by Mr. Geir Oddsson, an expert on Natural Resource Management, the value of the whale watching business is estimated to be 24.2 million US$.
??(For a full report go to: )??

The common argument in Iceland, that there is an urgent need to utilize all natural resources, including whales, can be abstracted by the fact that whales are being utilized already, in an alternative way. Whales have not been harmed for many years in the Icelandic waters and therefore not afraid of boats anymore; provide an unforgettable experience for the people.

??A false statement by Iceland’s Fisheries Minister

??According to the official policy of Iceland’s Government all natural resources in the ocean must be utilized in a sustainable way. Sustainability is defined by three main points; it must take into account the Economic value, Social effects and the Resource. ??

There is NO way whaling can be defined as sustainable industry at this point. There are NO economic benefits from whaling as there are no markets for the products not to mention that whaling is with out a doubt damaging Iceland’s image as a nature destination around the world. Whaling may also have serious impact on Iceland’s reputation and its international leading role in connection with conservation and sustainable management of the natural resources in the Oceans.??

It’s hard to find any positive social effects from whaling, while whale watching on the other hand has provided many new jobs and created new businesses all around Iceland such as, New guest houses, hotels, restaurants, museums and tourist handcraft centers.?Whale watching is conducted with little or non impact on whales. ??

Whale Watching in the Future

At the present rate of growth, it is estimated that the numbers of whale watching tourists could exceed 100.000 in 2008. It is crucial, to increase its recognition by authorities and the public that whale watching is no longer jeopardized by senseless whaling activities.

??The potential for whale watching in Iceland is excellent. 45 % of whale species currently known have their natural distribution in European waters. Many of them, like blue, fin, humpback, minke, sei whale and orcas are frequenting Icelandic waters. The high productivity of the North Atlantic creates good feeding grounds and the structure of coastal areas provides a variety of habitats, suiting different species. If the growth of whale watching continues, longer trips may become more feasible, including species that prefer higher water depths like sperm whales.

??National Pride and Independence ??

The Minister of Fisheries justifies its lethal minke whale research with the depleting cod stocks, trying to proof that the abundance of minke whales is responsible for the situation. The Icelandic Whale Watching Association will continue to counter this argument, which is used to cover up the attempt to re-establish a whale meat market in Iceland.

??The head of the Whale research unit of the Marine Research Institute, admitted that whalers have sought out the curious whales as their prime target in the past, since they are easy to approach. Naturally, these animals are at the same time the most important ones for the whale watching companies. ??

The Marine Research Institute has published a map on their website showing the location of each Minke whale killed by the whalers during the whaling hunt 2003 / 2004 / 2005. We have marked the whale watching areas in blue to show the interaction we are facing. (See the below)


??The Whale Watching Association has officially condemned the Marine research Institute in public for allowing the whaling boats to hunt Minke whales near and even with in whale watching areas as you can see. We are worried that this kind of vandalism will continue this summer even though the Icelandic Fisheries minister at the time Mr. Arni Matthiessen had given his word NOT to hunt any Minke whales with in Whale Watching areas.

The decision made by Iceland’s new Fisheries Minister Mr. Einar Gudfinnsson to additionally allow commercial hunt of minke whales will, with out a doubt have negative influences, with great impacts on the number of friendly minke whales, which are the most important and most common whales seen on whale watching trips. Attempts in other countries have proven that whaling and whale watching cannot co-exist.

??It is necessary to provoke official discussions and to inform the public that the reduction by 200 minke whales yearly will neither safe Icelandic fish stocks nor re-balance the marine ecosystems in Iceland. ??Finally I would like to encourage you to travel to Iceland for an unforgettable experience to meet the beautiful and majestic whales and at the same time support Iceland’s growing whale watching industry

??Hope to see you in Iceland.


?Asbjorn Bjorgvinsson. (Abbi)?
Manager of the Husavik Whale Museum


The author, Asbjorn Björgvinsson, is the founder and manager for the Husavik Whale Museum, located on the North-east coast of Iceland. My home town Husavik has clamed to be “the whale watching capital of Europe” as there is no single port that takes more tourists out on whale watching tours to enjoy the magnificent whales that migrate to Iceland early spring. The Husavik Whale Museum, the only one in Iceland adds to the experience and gives people a chance to learn about whales, their lifespan and history. The biology of whales also plays a major role in the museum along many other related aspects of whales and whale watching.??Ásbjorn has received international awards for his work, promoting whale watching and fighting for the positive utilization of the whale stocks around Iceland.??These Include:??The Golden Ark Award from H.R.H. Prince Bernhard of the Netherlands in 1999.?Global 500 Laureate from UNEP, United Nations Environment Program in 2000.?Voted European Hero by the TIME Magazine.

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