Sara Holden, Greenpeace International whales campaigner, writes...
I read a very revealing interview yesterday, with Iceland’s chief whaler. Kristjan Loftsson has merrily defied the global moratorium on commercial whaling for decades and now sits on Iceland’s government delegation to the International Whaling Commission. He is, of course, also big pals with the Japanese and Norwegian delegations.
In the article he dismisses whales as “just another fish”, rubbishing the notion that whales are intelligent – saying “if they were so smart they would stay out of Icelandic waters”.
A couple of things about intelligence Mr Loftsson – whales are NOT fish – they are mammals. They suckle their young. Often it is the pregnant females, that are harpooned in the Southern Ocean hunt run by the Japanese government. Clearly these fish are too stupid to stay out of that ocean too.
Secondly – the waters around Iceland were home to the whales long before humans even walked the planet, let alone created exploding harpoons. And the balance of nature, with plentiful fish – and I mean fish – was not an issue then. People catch too many fish, not whales.
Professor Callum Roberts of York University, has published a fascinating book “ An Unnatural History of the Sea” that takes first hand accounts from early explorers, sailors, pirates, merchants, and fishermen to describe pre-industrialised oceans as “waters teeming with whales, sea lions, sea otters, turtles, and giant fish”. It is ridiculous, dare I say stupid, to blame the whales for failing fish stocks.
Mr Loftsson also claims the IWC debate is about creating unemployment. It is true that Iceland has suffered hugely and even disproportionately as a result of the global economic crisis – but whale watching in Iceland is a massive industry for that small nation, creating far more wealth and jobs that Mr Loftsson’s tiny army of whale hunters. The same is true worldwide, including in Mr Lofftson’s other favourite whale hunting country, Norway, where whalers even harpooned a whale in front of a boat load of tourists who had paid good money to enjoy the majesty of whales swimming freely in their ocean home. Not the smartest approach to ensuring more customers.
But Mr Loftsson has to be given some points for being smart. He says that shutting down the whaling industry in Iceland would be like cutting 15,000 jobs in the US. Very clever psychology, Kristjan, because of course the figure that now sticks in your head is 15,000 lost jobs.
Until, as they say in the US, you do the math.
According to the US Census Bureau, in 2009 the USA has a population of 309, 576,203 people. That is three hundred and nine million, five hundred and seventy six thousand, two hundred and three people.
15,000 jobs as a percentage of the US population is 0.004845 %.
Iceland’s population in 2008, according to the World Bank was 317,414. If you calculate the same percentage – which Mr Loftsson says is the equivalent - ending whaling in Iceland would cost 15.37 jobs. Fifteen jobs. That is the number to remember.
Every job is precious in these times. Call me crazy - which I believe he does! - but I am certain that by stepping out of the shadow of international condemnation that hangs over Iceland because of its relentless pursuit of commercial whaling, Iceland can grow its whale watching and green jobs sector even more, and will provide those fifteen people with other employment. That would be the intelligent thing to do.
He goes on to say about whaling in Iceland - "It was a good summer job with a good salary, enough to buy drinks and some entertainment." I am presuming that he is not referring to the same kind of entertainment that the Sunday Times newspaper in the UK recently exposed in their article “Flights, Girls and Cash buy Japanese Whaling Votes”.
But let’s leave that and go back to the issue of intelligence.
Mr Loftsson concedes that he would never participate in catching the last whale, which is commendable. But history teaches us that humans are actually not so smart or thoughtful. The near extinction of whale species, because we would not or did not know when to stop, is exactly why there is a moratorium in place in the first place.
But that does not seem to be an issue for them as they push to commercialise an industry that wrought devastation to the seas.
According to Albert Einstein, who I think we can all agree was a pretty intelligent guy, doing something over and over again expecting a different result is the definition of madness.
Image: A dead endangered fin whale, brought to the harbor of Hvalfjrour, Iceland - following a commerical whaling hunt. 2006. © Greenpeace / Ragnar Axelsson