More on Iceland, whales and the Bird Fair

Please read to the bottom of this post.

The recent comment from Linda about whaling, Iceland and holiday tours has really put some cats among some pigeons and generated some good comments from regular commenters here.

I’ve had an invitation from one tour company to have a chat at the Bird Fair, a call from the Bird Fair organisers and a report that one tour operator has stopped offering tours to Iceland.  Interesting!

My own view on the subject of which countries to visit is that it is difficult to have a firm view – doesn’t sound like me does it?  Here is a post I wrote getting on for a year ago which shows the outlines of my thought processes.  And note that I spent several weeks in the west of the USA this spring – the home of Trump and where, increasingly, Wolves and Bears are culled.

I am pretty sure that I could come up with a half-convincing argument for why every country on Earth should be on a no-visit list – and that might be the right answer!  I find this whole area very difficult.

So, Iceland kills some whales – I disapprove!  Strongly I disapprove (partly on the emotional basis of having seen whales in California this June but also on more theoretical intellectual grounds).  But not all Icelanders kill whales – or approve of killing whales. So do I visit or not?

And Malta – the Maltese are pretty awful aren’t they? Well, what about the Maltese BirdLife partner which is full of brave conservationists? Should I visit or not? What will I achieve by either behaviour?

I really struggle to work my way cogently through this minefield. Can you help?

I thought Linda’s long and considered comment was quite helpful (and it started with a compliment about this blog which clearly went down well with me).  This was someone who had done their homework.

And then it was followed by well-argued comments by Nonnie Mouse and Ben Travers – both, like Linda new commenters on this blog.

I’ve been doing this for long enough to have a twitching nose…

And so I need to tell you that Linda, Ben and Nonnie all have the same IP address which is based in Canada.  They appear to be part of a coordinated campaign against wildlife holidays in iceland.  I am not going to delete their comments – as I think they are well presented – but you should be aware of this fact when you read their comments.






13 Replies to “More on Iceland, whales and the Bird Fair”

  1. Ah! interesting. Thanks for that, Mark. I was going to further reply to “Linda” and the others, but given what you have said I probably won’t bother. Is this the same Canada that culls seal pups?

  2. A great post Mark.
    I’d recommend talking to Marek at Wildlife Poland’s stall at Birdfair. I asked him what was happening to Bialowieza and explained I’d cancelled my own visit last year. His response was “You must come! To see what is happening and then to complain and let the government know the outside world is watching!”. He was very upset by the felling but as passionate as ever about people learning more. And visiting his country.
    Poland’s government is far removed from its people these days – but he was absolutely right. Staying away may not be the answer.

  3. I think you’re right the highlight the complexity and because these issues are so complex I tend to react badly to any campaign that tries to tell me how I should behave (especially so if deception is involved). I’d like to be able to make my own mind up. I also react badly to campaigns that deliberately set out to inconvenience lots of people in order to help publicise a point of view – the fuel-tax slow lorry drivers blocking motorways a few years back comes to mind. Everyone has strong feelings about something and if we all tried to advance our own causes by behaving like that it would lead to chaos.

    I think most people have cottoned on to this and campaign about the issue itself rather than taking the moral high ground and trying to tell people what they should be doing. You won’t find many vegetarians telling you that you shouldn’t be eating meat. But they will be quite happy to explain why they don’t do it (and very convincing it is too).

    It would be interesting to list out all the countries that wildlife tour companies go to and try to argue which would provide the most guilt-free trip. Everyone would have a different list. Iceland would probably be closer to the top than the bottom for me, all things considered. Israel would be at the bottom, a country that you visited a while back. It’s all down to personal choice.

  4. This subject is indeed a minefield. Our answer to this is simply to wear our bins around our necks wherever we go. At least this puts it into the mind of the locals that there is money to be made from not shooting everything.
    This applies whether in Scotland, Iberia, Africa, anywhere in fact.
    Rather than not go to Iceland, make it plain why you are there. If every tourist to Iceland went on a whale watching trip, they would soon be making more money from seeing whales that killing whales.
    The pressures on the natural world today are enormous and not simple, but I believe that the tourist buck will be integral to the survival of many species and places that would not survive without.

    And the tourist companies themselves? Don’t berate then for earning a living, rather, encourage them to explain the issues to their clients. I would rather buy my trip from a company that was upfront about local issues.
    If a company tries to play down the fact that whaling still goes on, buy from one that doesn’t but is willing to do something about it.

  5. ‘the Maltese are pretty awful aren’t they?’
    That is unusually unfair Mark. If that was another country a bit further to the east would it be OK?

    1. It’s a question, then qualified. We must make up our own minds on each event.

    2. Yes Prasad Malta are awful and in defiance of EU law. Syria is awful, as are Lebanon and Egypt. Most countries in the Caucasus are also pretty poor as of course is the UK.
      For other reasons (death penalty and other human rights abuses) I personally would avoid Israel, Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Iran, The Philippines, Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore currently added to that is USA and possibly Japan. However that is MY choice and I wouldn’t expect others to necessarily follow suit.

      1. Yes Paul Malta but i have a problem with the branding of a whole nation of people, even Israelis, gamekeepers, grouse-moor owners etc.

        1. I didn’t say I was just that they have a bird killing or human rights problem, I’m sure they all have some very nice citizens that we would all get on with but I would avoid visiting and spending money in those countries. In my youth I went out with an Iraqi just as I’ve known some very nice grouse gamekeepers and moor owners wouldn’t trust most of them with a harriers nest but they were and still are OK as people.

  6. Yup. A minefield. Consider:

    Italy, France, Cyprus, Malta, Lebanon and Spain are all routinely guilty of shooting and trapping millions of migrating songbirds. South Africa is guilty of allowing canned lion hunting. And of course, England and Scotland… routinely guilty of raptor persecution, badger baiting, hare coursing, fox hunting etc.

    As you say Mark, I doubt there’s a country in the world with an unblemished environmental record. We haven’t even talked about which countries pollute the most.

    So, should we just accept all this?

    Of course not.

    The question is whether boycotts will be effective in achieving their stated aims and whether they will do more harm or good.

    In some cases they may work, where countries are largely dependent on tourism and a large enough public awareness campaign can be mobilised. Many countries are prepared to go to considerable lengths to keep the flow of foreign exchange from tourists coming in. But such punitive measures can also engender resentment which may manifest itself in actions against the species those boycotts may have been hoping to benefit. Anti-EU sentiment is said to fuel much of the Cypriot passion for bird netting.

    Considering Iceland, it is my understanding is that most of the old whaling fleet there has been re-purposed for whale tourism. Remove that tourism revenue via a boycott and what is to stop them converting their boats back into a whaling fleet? Indeed, what alternative would they have?

    Boycotts are tempting because they feel like a way we can have a direct impact, but they need to be considered carefully.

    Boycotting M&S when they ill-advisedly stocked red grouse was a smart boycott.

    Targeting a whole country’s tourism revenue seems less likely to yield success and could have the opposite impact.

    Better might be to favour those businesses in Iceland (and elsewhere) which are being most vociferous/effective in their protests against the whaling and which exhibit the “greenest” credentials.

    1. They may not be able to afford to re-convert those old whale boats. The requirements of a tourist boat and a working whale boat are very different and it would cost a packet to undo the expensive to-tourism conversion to get it to a working whale boat again. Also if it has been converted for more than a couple of years then the whaling crew skillset will have atrophied and it may not be possible to get crew capable of whaling again. That would leave them in the position of having to petition their own Parliament to bring pressure on the still working whalers so they can get back the tourist money which is now their only viable form of income. I say do it.

  7. Whilst my first response has always been that I would avoid Iceland and the Faroes for their whaling, which I find abhorrent, a recent development near to where I live has raised an interesting perspective. Some may have seen the planned golf course at Coul Links near Dornoch, where I live. Golf is sold as a major employer directly amd indirectly into the local economy. And no doubt it is a factor that cannot be ignored. But equally in the highlands we have been good at selling off our heritage to the likes of Cheviot sheep, forestry, deer forests and oil. From an outsider’s perspective one could argue why go on holiday to watch wildlife in Sutherland when the local electec leaders are willing to sell off unique biodiversity areas? Now the wildlife round here is brilliant, mammals, birds, flora and rare flies in sand dunes. So from here I would prefer you all to come and say very loudly you are not here for golf but wildlife and if the latter is traded for the former you will not return.
    That being said, I wonder how to stand in Iceland, The Faeroes and sadly oh so many other places.
    Just a thought, thank you for the space, Iain

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