This season for the first time since 2003 Icelandic whale hunters will refrain from hunting whales.
This is reportedly due to a lack of market interest in whale meat, a dish rarely eaten by locals despite tourists often perceiving whale meat to be an ‘authentic’ part of Icelandic life.
Iceland will continue to import whale meat, and may hunt next season if demand for whale meat rises. However, activists hope this marks the beginning of the end for the Icelandic whale meat industry.
In Iceland, endangered fin whales are hunted by just one company, Hvalur hf, who have now confirmed they will be forgoing hunting both fin whales and minke whales this season.
As reported by The Reykjavik Grapevine, Hvalur hf announced earlier this month they would not be hunting vulnerable fin whales due to getting their permit too late.
According to RUV, this has now extended to minke whales, which are commonly found in Icelandic waters.
Managing Director of Hvalur hf, Kristján Loftsson, reportedly said this was because it had proven too difficult to market whale meat in Japan.
I'm no wildlife photographer, but got lucky taking a photo of a humpback whale breaching in Húsavík, Iceland. Not very sharp, but otherwise pretty happy with it… pic.twitter.com/c4DswlvBLK
— Mark J. Nelson (@mm_jj_nn) July 15, 2019
CEO of whaling company IP Útgerð, Gunnar Bergmann Jónsson, has also stated his company will eschew whaling this season, placing their focus on sea cucumbers instead.
However, as reported by RUV, IP Útgerð will still import minke whale meat from Norway to meet the low demand in Iceland. They are also expected to resume hunting minke whales next year.
Whale hunting for ‘scientific purposes’ was introduced in Iceland as of 2003. Three years later, whaling for commercial purposes was authorised, sparking outrage amongst the international community.
As reported by the travel website Responsible Travel, whale meat is far from being part of an Icelandic local’s everyday eating habits and should not be viewed as a ‘must do’ foodie experience.
In 2006 just over one per cent of households in Iceland consumed whale on a weekly basis. This figure rose to five per cent in 2010 after an aggressive marketing campaign by the Icelandic government followed significantly increased commercial hunting quotas.
Figures reported earlier this year by The Maritime Executive reveal less than one per cent of Icelandic residents eat whale, with 81 per cent of citizens having never even tried it.
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Despite this, many tourists visiting Iceland all too often view eating whale as part of the adventurous Icelandic experience.
Responsible Travel has noted how, following the 2008 to 2011 financial crash, tourism became a core part of repairing the damaged economy, meaning the government has been keen to cater to their wishes.
Therefore, tourists are urged to make change using their wallet; avoiding meals containing whale meat and frequenting hotels and restaurants which bear ‘whale friendly’ stickers.
Tourists are also encouraged to support the Icelandic tourism industry by embarking on whale watching exhibitions, a far kinder and more rewarding way to engage with Icelandic culture.
— MarceTyrerS #Murmex🌎🐜 (@marce9462) July 12, 2019
UNILAD spoke with a Whale and Dolphin Conservation (WDC) representative about this latest development in the whale meat industry, and the significance of this halt in the long run.
The WDC representative told UNILAD:
News that Icelandic whalers will not be going out this summer to slaughter these magnificent creatures is fantastic news.
Whaling is cruel, largely unprofitable and increasingly unpopular in Iceland with most of the minke whale meat eaten by visiting tourists rather than by local people.
Hvalur hf, owned by Kristian Loftsson, slaughtered over 146 fin whales last year, including at least two rare blue whale/fin whale hybrids and a dozen pregnant females.
WDC has long campaigned against commercial whaling of both fin and minke whales in Iceland, and the transit of fin whale meat to Japan, and we hope that these hunting vessels remain tied to the dock.
We ask that anyone visiting Iceland gets out on a boat with a reputable operator to see these amazing creatures rather that eating whale meat in the mistaken belief that this is traditional, or part of a cultural experience. It is neither and simply encourages further whaling.
We're leading on calling @EU_Commission to take legal action against 15 EU governments for failing in their legal duty to protect #whales, #dolphins and #porpoises in the North East Atlantic from capture in fishing nets. #EndBycatch
— Whale and Dolphin Conservation (WDC) (@whalesorg) July 10, 2019
IceWhale (the Icelandic Association of Whale Watchers) was formed by Icelandic whale watching operators, with the core aim of informing tourists about whale meat consumption facts.
The conservation focused NGO hopes improved education surrounding this subject will encourage tourists to support a ban against commercial whaling, and their website is well worth a read if you are planning a Reykjavík getaway.
You can find out more about IceWhale’s Meet Us Don’t Eat Us campaign here.
If you have a story you want to tell send it to UNILAD via [email protected]
Jules studied English Literature with Creative Writing at Lancaster University before earning her masters in International Relations at Leiden University in The Netherlands (Hoi!). She then trained as a journalist through News Associates in Manchester. Jules has previously worked as a mental health blogger, copywriter and freelancer for various publications.