Sometimes there are comments on this blog which are so good that they deserve elevating to a post in their own right so that they get a wider audience. In response to my recent short post on the Bird Fair (but also relevant to this post on Iceland, and to this one) there was the comment reproduced below from Linda which attracted some more comments from Nonnie Mouse and Ben Travers. They are worth another read and may attract more comments too.
I’ve added the links to Linda’s comment.
I read Mark’s blog avidly but this is the first time I’ve commented. I didn’t know much about the whale killing that’s been going on in Iceland since 2003 until the recent news about a possible blue whale being harpooned. The report coincided with holiday research my husband and I had been undertaking about travelling in Scotland next year. We thought it strange that several supposedly pro conservation wildlife travel companies were offering trips to Iceland. We asked some of them why and were fobbed off with responses including “we will continue to work from within”, comparing Iceland’s whale killing with illegal bird trapping in Cyprus (really) and an exchange with one operator ended with “I don’t need to justify or rationalise anything”. Some didn’t even bother to reply to our messages.
Over the course of a few days I learned the following:
Iceland resumed commercial whaling in 2003 with the hunting of Minke Whales for the domestic market. It seems that some of this meat is destined for restaurants and consumed by tourists.
In 2009 Iceland allowed the resumption of Fin Whale (an endangered species) hunting. It seems that these products are destined for export, Japan being the major customer.
Whale hunting is supported by the Icelandic taxpayer through the state’s marine research organisation and alleged direct contributions to the whalers (though this is difficult to confirm). The country benefits from tax receipts on the sale of the whale products.
It seems that opinion polls in Iceland put pro and anti whaling at about 50/50 though some suggest it as high as 75/25 in favour of whaling. The most recent I found was 33% for whaling, 33% against whaling whilst the remaining 33% couldn’t be bothered to answer. I think it’s safe to say that there is NOT a clear majority for banning whaling within the country.
The cruelty involved in the killing is unimaginable and is reason alone to halt the activity without getting involved in the environmental and conservation implications. Apparently hunters fire exploding harpoons into the whale which are attached to the ship with ropes. The ship acts as a float holding the animal close to the surface as the whale tries to dive and escape. Icelandics don’t publish (or at least we couldn’t find it) the time taken between the harpoon striking the animal and death but from other sources it seems it is seldom under two minutes and 17 minutes or even longer is not uncommon. This is barbaric. It’s difficult to believe that the flesh is not contaminated as the harpoon strikes, rather like lead in grouse but orders of magnitude worse. We assume explosive residues and metal fragments from the harpoon enter the whale. We’ve no idea how this is screened before the whale meat is released for human consumption.
A couple of minutes with a well known search engine also turned up the following which takes you to an official EU web site and the text of something called a demarche (I didn’t know what it meant either — it’s a strongly worded criticism, apparently) which roundly condemns Iceland’s whale hunting and is signed by all EU countries, The United States, Australia, Brazil and others. It’s difficult to think of a more hard hitting official criticism. This was signed and presented to the Iceland government in 2014 but the whaling still continues.
Anyway, what’s all this got to do with a blog about the Bird Fair? Well we’ve had a look at the websites of the travel companies (aren’t there a lot!) at the event and, concentrating on the UK ones, determined if they offered trips to Iceland, or not. There’s a list of them below. A large majority do not travel to Iceland but there are still some that do. I think it’s fair to say that if you travel to Iceland with these companies you are directly contributing (through the taxes that you and the travel company pays in Iceland) to the hunting of whales. What we also found interesting during our research was that not one of the wildlife companies appears to offer trips to the Faroe Islands. Faroeese hunters kill Pilot Whales by driving them on shore and stabbing them to death. The killing grounds are horrific and there has been a lot of international condemnation. Unlike Iceland it doesn’t look as if they get any government support (can’t be sure about this) and no meat is sold. Instead, according to tradition, it’s distributed amongst the Faroes communities with the most needy getting the largest share. Clearly wildlife travel companies don’t want to be associated with this hunting in the faroes so why are some of them content to be associated with Iceland? I suppose the answer must be money. Expensive destinations such as Iceland presumably fill the coffers of the travel companies concerned.
IFAW, Greenpeace, FoE, Whale and Dolphin Society and a host of other conservation and animal welfare organisations roundly condemn whaling in Iceland but still it goes on. So is there anything that we, as readers of Mark’s blog, can do? Yes there is. If you’re going on a wildlife holiday do as we plan to do and book with an operator that doesn’t visit Iceland, and compliment them on their stance. If you’re at the Bird Fair then visit the companies that DO NOT visit Iceland and say how pleased you are that they don’t support this awful regime. Talk to the companies that DO visit Iceland and express your disappointment at what they choose to do. Some of these companies may well offer fancy statements about “sustainability” and “working from within” (a popular excuse and one which when pursued produced no meaningful examples) but don’t be fooled — I don’t think I’m being too cynical when I say they’re only there for the dosh. Also, wouldn’t it be great if the companies that do not visit Iceland could all co-sign a letter to the Iceland government stating they don’t visit the country and have no plans to do so whilst the bloody whaling continues. Who knows perhaps this will have an effect, it’s certainly worth a try. Maybe, some of the tour operators that currently visit Iceland can be persuaded not to do so as well.
What about it Mark, I know it’s not hen harriers or grouse but is this something you can coordinate?
UK Wildlife Tour Companies that DO NOT visit Iceland (Quick website check in July 2018)
Shetland Nature Holidays
Wild About Travel
Greenwings wildlife holidays
Ecotours Wildlife Holidays
UK Wildlife Tour Companies that visit Iceland (Quick website check in July 2018)
Wildlife Worldwide/Travelling Naturalist
Sarus Bird Tours
Discover the World
This isn’t my real name. I don’t want to get in trouble with my boss. Linda is right about wildlife travel companies being in it for the “dosh”. I work in the wildlife travel business and being an expensive country Iceland gives a high ppc (profit per client) in the jargon of the trade. Markup varies between 35% to over 50% of a tour’s costs so it’s easy to see that selling trips to expensive destinations like Iceland brings in more money than cheaper places. A week’s trip to Iceland is often advertised for around £3,000! The “working from within” excuse is often used and I’ve been instructed to respond to clients’ concerns about whaling by saying we are doing this. In reality it only means that we send our clients on whale watching trips. Good on the companies that don’t go to Iceland whilst the whale hunting continues!
Thanks Linda for a very clear explanation. I learned a lot. I wish I had known about this before I visited Iceland last month. It wasn’t the best of trips, if I’ve time I’ll summarise it here later. You left out Heatherlea wildlife from your list of companies that visit Iceland by the way. Just had a look at their website and they have lots of tours there, summer and winter.