Iceland: Whaling nation today, but for how long?

Poll shows support for whaling weakening

Feature story - 16 September, 2003
Our presence in Iceland is starting to turn the tide of opinion on this North Atlantic Island. The Icelandic Government is now reviewing the so-called "scientific whaling" programme and the Prime Minister recently indicated that if no export markets can be secured in future, this will mean an end to Icelandic whaling.

Minke caught by the whaling ship from Isafjordur in NW Iceland. Whalers cut the whale on board and place it in containers before bringing their boat in to the harbour.

In addition, key players are asking the Government to act on our offer to encourage Iceland as a nature-based tourism destination in the future, once whaling has come to an end. The Icelandic national TV and radio ran a web poll asking people if they think the Icelandic Government should accept Greenpeace's offer. By the end of the polling period a total of 71 percent had voted said "yes," the Government should accept.

On board the Rainbow Warrior, our spokesperson Frode Pleym welcomed the development: "The Icelandic people, particularly the younger generation, are obviously starting to question their government's whale hunting agenda. We know that Greenpeace will not change opinion in a week, but this is a promising start."

Rainbow Warrior has now reached Seydisfjördur in the north of Iceland, on its tour of the country. The purpose of the tour is to engage in a dialogue with the public on the whaling issue, and to support local opposition to the plan. The crew have been encouraged by the reaction so far, as support for the government seems to be falling in the towns which Rainbow Warrior has visited to expose the fallacy of "scientific whaling."

The town of Husavik is one such example: "The Greenpeace proposal is good for the Icelandic people, for tourism and for the environment," says Fridrik Sigurdsson, Chairman of the Husavik Marketing Council. "I want to send a short message to the government: Stop whaling and don't start again. Whale watching is extremely important to us but it is impossible to expand when we do such a wrong thing as whale hunting. For us in Husavik it could be a disaster."

Meanwhile Greenpeace photographer Nick Cobbing has been bearing witness to the current activities of the Icelandic whaling fleet, flying over in a light aircraft to photograph the flensing (or skinning) of one of the 38 minke whales caught under the "scientific whaling" programme.

It's time for the Icelandic Government to start listening to the ever-increasing number of its own people and others all over the world who say that these practices belong to the past, and have no place in the future of what, in many ways, is one of the most ecologically advanced nations in the world.

In a Kyodo news interview on 10 September Icelandic Prime Minister David Oddsson admitted that a resumption of commercial whaling would be dependent on the Japanese export market, because demand at home was "very, very small."

According to Frode Pleym this admission means that "The Icelandic Government may just as well cancel all plans for whaling, since there will never be any export to Japan. International reactions and, ironically, toxic contamination of whale meat would stop that."

The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) bans trade in minke whale meat products, and while Japan, Iceland, and Norway hold a reservation which they claim exempts them from the ban, strong international pressure has been brought in the past to enforce CITES regulations. High levels of contamination from North Sea pollutants have led to warnings from Japanese consumer groups that whale meat captured in arctic waters is unfit for consumption.

The Rainbow Warrior made her maiden voyage to Iceland in 1978. Many of the countries that were then whaling nations are today the staunchest opponents of commercial whaling. They now accept that the oceans are severely degraded and that whales face a complex array of environmental threats including those posed by toxic chemicals, climate change and even noise pollution. In such circumstances it would be folly to restart whaling, especially when there is a truly sustainable alternative: whale watching.

Daily updates

Follow the voyage of the Rainbow Warrior around Iceland at the Iceland Tour weblog.