Photo: The Whaling Station, Hvalfjörður
It’s a beautiful setting for some less than beautiful deeds. Hvalfjörður means Whale Fjord and the group of white buildings at the foot of the pier into the fjord are where Iceland’s catch of Fin Whales are flensed and butchered under the eyes of a Japanese inspector – for all the Fin Whale meat goes to Japan. Over 100 Fin Whales have had this fate in 2018.
Photo: Hvalfjörður Whaling Station
If any whales had been killed during my short stay in Icleand last week I could have stood above the whaling station looking down on what was happening. I wonder what impact the sights and sounds and smells would have had on me.
Icelanders are very keen to say that they are a proud independent people who will make up their own minds on whaling – and that’s fair enough. Nobody is saying that anyone else can make Iceland’s whaling decisions for them – but that doesn’t mean that the world won’t think less of them if Iceland makes the wrong decision. In some ways the announcement of a review of the issues around whaling have raised the stakes. If Iceland carries out a review of whaling and then continues to kill whales then some will give up on them, and think less of them for it. I haven’t met anyone outside of Iceland who says that a continuation of whaling by Iceland is what they want – but I live in a bubble, as we all do.
I think we Brits generally feel an affection for Iceland – an island nation off the coast of Europe, like us, who whipped us in the Cod War and again (if you are English) at football in 2016 Euros. What’s not to like? And having visited Iceland, I feel even warmer to its countrymen and women – their friendliness, their informality and their sense of fairness would be three reasons for that. But just as one might feel less like spending time with a friend or relative who has bad habits then the same is true of a foreign country. Iceland doesn’t have to take any notice of what the international community thinks of it, but that won’t stop us from thinking it, and we might decide to get on a plane to Spain, Denmark or to stay at home rather than visit Iceland in future.
Photo: Old Whaling Ships, Hvalfjörður
The two beached boats in the image above are whaling ships that were sunk many years ago by the Sea Shepherd organisation – one of them while its crew were sleeping on board (according to folk I met in Iceland but not according to the Wikipedia account). They are owned by the sole whaler in Iceland and I was told, perhaps unreliably, that he wakes up every day with the image of those boats in his head and that makes him more determined to continue whaling. Some of us are that stubborn.
Certainly, the sinking of these boats reduced the Icelandic whaling fleet but it may have increased the resolve of icelandic whlers. And many told me that it made the last Icelandic whaler a victim and swung public opinion toawards him even at a time when it was perhaps drifting away. I can believe that – the sinking of these two boats is still the only act of terrorism carried out on Icelandic soil (and water).
Iceland is a fantastic place to visit. I hope they make it easier for us all to do so in future.