Somewhere between Iceland and Japan, the fin whale got a little bit safer. The 27 metre long mammal is the second largest in the world. It ranges across the globe and can be found less and less in all the major oceans. It's a beautiful creature, sleek and grey. It produces a single calf once every two or three years. It's not so sleek and beautiful, however, when it’s eviscerated and bloody on the docks of an Icelandic port.
This year, one man in Iceland, along with his company, Hvalur, felt it made sense to resume slaughtering the whales. Odd, because his countrymen don't have much use for whale meat. Iceland, as a whole, opposes whaling. Not even the perennial whale-hunting country of Japan has much use for whale meat anymore. The fact that the whales – up to 185 likely to be killed this year – are destined for Japanese fridges, makes whaling in Iceland the worst kind of idiocy; the sadistic kind. To compound this deadly idiocy is the fact that, on either side, Iceland or Japan, it doesn't make economic sense. In fact, the only things that might be able to make sense of this are the dogs of some rich Japanese.
So, for no reason at all, the whales make their way from Iceland to Japan, not gliding underwater through the oceans, but in chunks, packed inside large metal boxes, sitting atop massive cargo ships.
Here's the thing, though: The ships, unlike the whales, need land to re-supply. To do that, they need to stop at international ports. And that’s how we got them.
On Friday, arriving from Rotterdam, where they were met by our Dutch office by activists, the cargo ship COSCO Pride trundled into port in Hamburg. That’s when the Greenpeace office there went into action. They met the incoming ship with banners reading: STOPPT DEN HANDEL MIT WALFLEISCH (STOP THE WHALE MEAT TRADE). They demanded that the whale meat be offloaded onto the docks. They contacted German Environment Minister, Peter Altmaier, and asked him to ban the passage of whale meat through German ports.
Hamburg Port Customs reacted to the demand and confiscated the shipment. But, on Tuesday, they released the containers back onto the pier to be shipped the next day. The meat would continue on to Japan, and Germany would be complicit.
On Wednesday, Greenpeace activists pushed harder. They climbed up the mooring lines of the Eilbek; the ship meant to transport the whale meat to Japan. They secured themselves to the massive cables between the ship and land. A banner was attached to her hull which said, THIS IS WHERE GERMANY SUPPORTS WHALING. For two hours they remained there, visible through the back window of the Greenpeace office which is located near the port. From these tense two hours, several remarkable things occurred:
Minister Altmaier tweeted that he was for the protection of whales. He asked that German harbours 'voluntarily' not accept shipments of whale meat.
The Shipping Company, Unifeeder, operator of the Eilbek, cancelled their commitment to transport the whale meat from Hamburg to Japan.
Today, Samskip, the company which is the keystone for moving cargo out of Iceland, said they will no longer carry whale meat. This, after months of lobbying by Greenpeace to expose them as facilitating the trade of the animals slaughtered by the Hvalur company.
And Evergreen Line, the company which oversaw the six containers of whale meat from Iceland to Japan, made an about-face; they said they would not be part of the shipment of whales. Except for one last instance: To bring the whale meat – made up of the 10 to 15 dead whales slaughtered by one man – back to Iceland.
So, in a matter of hours, with non-violent courage and daring, the fin whales are a little bit safer. The struggle continues on behalf of these beautiful and endangered mammals, but for a moment we can all feel a little better. Except, of course, for the dogs of some rich Japanese.
Arin de Hoog is a Media Relations Specialist at Greenpeace International
UPDATE, 21 July 2013: The cargo companies kept their word, and the shipment of whale meat has been returned to Iceland
. Activists from the International Fund for Animal Welfare were there to mark its return.