Esperanza in Isafjordur, Iceland
Husavik was struggling for economic survival. Today, the town
enjoys a thriving tourist business.
The reason is whales.
Husavik markets itself as "one of the best spots in the world to
watch whales." And indeed, the day before we sailed in, four
extremely rare blue whales had been spotted in the crystal blue
waters, an unusual addition to the pods of minke, fin, and sei
whales that grace these mountainous shores.
There to greet us on the dock was Halldor Bloendal, President of
the Icelandic Althing, or Parliament, along with Asbjorn
Bjorgvinsson, the president of the Icelandic Whale Watching
Association, and Athalsteinn Baldursson, the chairman of the food
processing division of Iceland's largest union. Bloendal defended
his country's whaling policies, stating that people from urban
environments simply don't understand whaling because they live too
far from nature. The welcoming committee made a gift of a sperm
whale vertabra to the captain of the ship.
Benson, who travelled to Iceland aboard the Esperanza as the winner
of our Icelandic Whales Pledge competition, told the dignitary that
many of her fellow Americans would love to travel to Iceland to see
whales and experience the country's natural beauty, but would not
do so while whaling continued.
Marnee won a berth on the Esperanza as the internet activist who
the most people to pledge to visit Iceland if the government
stops whaling. Nearly 60,000 people have taken the pledge, for a
potential value of more than US$60 million to Iceland's economy, as
opposed to a whaling programme that earned US$3-US$4 million in its
Whale watching is one of the fastest growing sectors of the
tourist industry worldwide. Iceland got a late start, opening its
first whale watching operation in the 1990s. Since then, however,
it has seen a 250 percent growth rate, and was estimated to be
worth in excess of US$12 million in 2002. If the trends of a few
years ago continue, according to a 2002 study by Parsons and
Rawles, the industry could be worth US$20 million by 2006.
will those trends continue? Whale watching may be the
economic counterforce to Icelandic whaling, but by continuing to
hunt whales, the Icelandic government threatens to destroy the
whale watch industry.
Iceland attracts a special brand of nature-loving tourist.
Alight at Reykjavik airport and you're likely to see as many
backpacks as suitcases. Ads for white water rafting, glacier
skiing, scuba diving, geyser hikes, and hot springs camping
According to Mr. Bloendal, in the Icelandic mind, a love of
nature is not incompatible with hunting whales.
The same cannot be said of the tourists the whale-watch industry
is trying to attract.
survey of whale-watchers conducted in the summers of 2001 and 2002
demonstrated just how much of the whale-watch market Iceland is
either missing already or stands to lose due to its whaling
policies. Seventy-nine percent of whale watchers surveyed in
Scotland said they would boycott visiting a country that hunts
whales. Of those who would visit such a country, 40 percent said
they would not go whale-watching in a country which hunted
We have 60,000
pledgers who say they'll visit Iceland if, and only if, the
country stops whaling. Many of them have left comments saying that
they had cancelled trips they'd already planned.
Earlier this year, the head of Iceland's whale-watching
industry, Asbjorn Bjorgvinsson, wrote to the Icelandic government
that spring bookings for whale watch trips were down tenfold. He
wrote an impassioned plea to the government to stop whaling.
Even in Isafjordur, where whaling remains a way of life,
we found people open to discussion and agreeing to much of
Greenpeace's environmental agenda.
The difficult choice before Isafjordur, as with all of Iceland,
is to make the right choice between whaling and the future.
Take the pledge
to visit Iceland if and only if Iceland stops whaling.
a message to Icelandic Prime Minister David Oddsson.
Icelandic Whaling blog.