Bird Fair petition goes to Iceland

If you signed the petition at the Bird Fair asking the Icelandic Prime Minister, Katrín Jacobsdóttir, to do her best to end whaling in her country (see here and here) then your signature is now in her hands. I was lucky enough to be granted a 15-minute meeting with the Prime Minister yesterday afternoon.

I explained who the Bird Fair attendees are – many of them visitors to Iceland and many more potential visitors – and we talked about her plans for whaling.

She told me that her intention was that there should be a thorough review of the sustainability of whaling carried out which would look at the ecology of the subject but also the social aspects and the economics (such as potential lost tourism revenue due to individuals shunning Iceland as a destination because of its high-profile whaling).  During this review there would be no whaling.

I asked that the animal welfare aspects should be considered too. Iceland has quite good animal welfare regulations when it comes to terrestrial mammals but these do not apply to killing marine mammals such as whales.  Sometimes it takes longer than eight minutes for a harpooned whale to die – that seems to many, on Iceland and beyond, to be unacceptable in these times.

I found the PM very engaged with the subject, very well-informed and very obviously keen to move things forward.

I’m sure the Bird Fair petition made a small difference (as friends in Iceland said that it would) because it wasn’t ranting, it was sensible and it attempted to nudge things along in the direction that the PM wanted to go anyway.

And our meeting got some publicity too – on the main news website in Iceland – how is your Icelandic?

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16 Replies to “Bird Fair petition goes to Iceland”

  1. It sounds like the Icelandic government's review will be looking at the right questions. Minke in supermarkets is certainly free range, arguably sustainable and whilst animal welfare is extremely difficult to quantify, I think it would score reasonably well against many types of factory farming than society deems to be acceptable. My gut feeling about whaling is the same as that of most people in the UK. But the 'gut feeling' argument against whaling boils down to little more than don't hunt them 'because they're whales'. Where is the logic and evidence that might be needed depending on the outcome of the government review, especially if you are arguing to persuade another country to change its practices?

      1. Well, that might pass the free range and sustainability tests but probably quite a low score in relation to animal welfare (thinking especially of family and friends). I think social whales would fail the test for the same reason.

        1. It's deplorable that we have to consider 'sustainability' when discussing the acceptability or not of killing sentient creatures.

          As for 'social', farmed animals also love and care for their young - if they are allowed to - , which is pretty social in my book.

          1. I'd add the cruelty involved in the pursuit and killing of whales - a recent report showed that it takes 6-20 minutes for minke whales to die after being shot with an explosive harpoon. On that basis alone, whale killing fails to meet acceptable standards for animal slaughter - not to mention the distress caused to the other members of the pod.

  2. how is your Icelandic? - All the times I have been there they all speak English. It is a very friendly country with a good road structure and a good Gyr Falcon population with one of the best breeding seasons ever in 2018 due to plenty of Ptarmigan.

    May be the one miss in all this was raising the question of the toxicity of the actual whale meat. Given how badly our West coast Killer Whales are going with no breeding in over 20 years and the main pod down to 2 males - John Coe mainly found around the Hebrides .
    Lulu, what may be the last female, was found dead on the Isle of Tiree in 2016 after becoming entangled in fishing lines.
    Tests later revealed her body contained among the highest levels of polychlorinated biphenyls, or PCBs, ever recorded. The chemicals were banned from the 1970s but are still in the environment.

  3. ‘During this review there would be no whaling.’
    Great statement that. Let’s hope that their government reviews take as long as ours do.
    Great job Mark. And Ian, arguably sustainable? Doesn’t that depend where your baseline for Minke starts? Where does yours start?

  4. Paul - Given the incomplete data I'd settle for a level of take that did not prevent further population recovery (albeit the rate of recovery would inevitably be slowed down a little). Actually, based on emotions I wouldn't settle for that but based on a scientific and evidence-based approach I'd want to be able to respond sensibly to someone in Iceland making that case. And currently I'm not sure how I'd do that.

  5. I have translated the Icelandic to English in the link, as below;


    Prime Minister Katrín Jakobsdóttir took over at 1,350 signatures for lunch today, encouraging Icelanders to stop whaling. The signatures were collected at the British Bird Watching in Rutland Water, England, in the middle of last month.

    Mark Avery, a British environmental protectionist and writer who handed the Katrina signatures, is very pleased with the meeting. "The prime minister was very receptive and told me that a thorough assessment of whaling would be undertaken, and that during that work no whaling would occur."

    Most of the signatories to the prime minister are from the UK, while 21 nationals from most continents also mentioned their name. These include people from Iceland, Cambodia and the Nordic countries. Avery says no one who was used to signing the challenge has rejected it. It says something about how much consensus is to stop whaling. He said Katrina had taken good care of the people's challenges and said it was valuable to convey the views of the people.

    "She was very friendly and well informed. She is obviously keen to do everything she can to stop whaling within the political reality she is involved in, "says Avery. He is optimistic that Icelanders ban whaling. "The International Whaling Council in Brazil is now launching. I know that the licenses for fishing for Iceland are shortened. It would be great if the Icelandic government would send a message to stop whaling, "says Avery. He believes that it would have taken place around the world and that


    Actually I cheated and used Google translation. Other company tools who may pay more UK tax are also available.
    Also that is my disclaimer regarding the strange ending to the article.

    1. If you fiddle a little with Google Translate the oddest bits can be resolved as :
      Avery says no-one who was invited/asked to sign the petition refused to do so

      and for the last sentence, something like :
      He believes that it [the message] would reach around the world and have an effect.

      [I'm a linguist by trade, admittedly don't speak any Icelandic but have some knowledge of other languages in the same family].

      Really encouraging to see the PM's sensible response on this issue and her willingness to meet.

  6. Excellent initiative Mark and maybe it's not too late to also raise the meat toxicity issue with her?

  7. Nick, baleen whales feeding near the bottom of the food chain are unlikely to be accumulating pollutants at anything like the rate of an orca, who eats seals, who eat fish, who eat fish, who eat fish, who eat things near the bottom of the food chain. Not saying its not worth checking (like grouse and lead!) just that basic biology suggests its unlikely to be a comparable issue for Minkes.

    The fact that Minkes are reproducing very successfully is another indicator that, pollution wise, they're not in trouble in the way orcas are.

    Ian, I think its ok to base arguments on emotion provided that you know you're doing so - we are emotional beings. Otherwise why don't we also eat dogs, cats, and monkeys? We don't eat them for similar emotional reasons, and I think that's ok. But for whales, we can add to that how close we came to wiping them out and how catastrophically low their current populations are to historical. I don't know the minke stats but for the great whales their populations are at maybe 1/10000th or even 1/100000 of the natural level, and if minkes are filling some of the same ecological functions as great whales, which seems likely, then I'd be up for the subjective emotional debate in a few hundred years once the other species have recovered. I'm pretty sure it will be a moot point by then; history is not on the whalers side any more than it was on the slavers'.

    1. The problem with basing an argument on emotion or gut feelings is that people in different counties tend to have very different views. In this case we might (depending on the government review) end up saying that our gut feelings are more appropriate than those of the Icelandic people - so they should act on ours rather than theirs. They might reasonably argue that if our gut feelings are based mainly on cruelty then what about the greater cruelty we inflict on animals in this country in order to produce meat. And I guess all we would have left is the fact that whales are 'better' or more deserving of humane treatment than pigs and cows. And that doesn't really wash does it?

  8. JBC - We are producing well at the moment but it does not mean we have not got a problem with cancers, MS, chemicals in our food etc. The big companies will tell you any thing to make you buy their product. Look at the recent meat scandal. Four types of meat in mince! What's that all about? Like you say Bald Eagles flying about but many full of lead. Peregrines flying around but their egg shells were getting thinner. How many test in this country on humans for rat poison! They found it in Norway!![and I don't mean Warfarin!]


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