During my trip to Iceland I’m told that the whalers have a large amount of whale meat sat in freezers that they simply cannot sell.
You see, hardly anyone in Iceland eats it. Only about 6% of Icelanders say that they regularly eat whale meat and there is no export market. Japan are no longer interested in importing it as it would undercutting their own whalers.
The only reason that the whaling industry is continuing at all in Iceland, is because tourists are coming to Iceland and trying whale meat in the restaurants.
We avoided eating anywhere that sold it but a lot of people come to Iceland, see whale labelled on the menu as a local delicacy, and then try it. 200,000 tourists a year eat whale meat compared to just 20,000 Icelanders. It’s a typical example of the “when in Rome” syndrome. A large proportion of tourists admit that they have tried whale meat or would consider it without realising they are inadvertently keeping the whaling industry afloat.
There is a fair bit of evidence to suggest that most tourists, particularly those from countries with an anti-whaling attitude, wouldn’t eat whale meat if they realised that they are sustaining this cruel industry. And regardless of your views on eating meat and killing animals for food, it is simply impossible to kill a whale humanely. While most whale species are endangered and therefore need protection for conservation reasons, even though worldwide there may not be a conservation concern about the minke whales (at the moment), there is still a very strong argument against their slaughter on welfare grounds.
So part of the work IFAW do in Iceland is to run the “Meet Us, Don’t Eat Us” campaign to discourage tourists from trying whale meat while they are visiting. A group of volunteers talk to tourists around the harbour, making sure that they know that most people in the country do not eat whale, and that if the tourists do not, whaling will become a thing of the past.
There is a lot that can be done to raise awareness amongst the tourists, but what was clear from my visit is that there is a much bigger challenge to persuade Icelanders. People in Iceland are fiercely independent and don’t like being told what to do. There is a strong pro-whaling lobby, just as there was for fox-hunting in the UK despite the fact that most of the population doesn’t eat whale meat and very few people, if any, are reliant on whaling for their livelihood. The international community trying to tell Iceland not to carry on whaling, or Europe dictacting an end to whaling to them as a prerequisite for joining the EU, will simply stiffen their resolve.
However, there are already some encouraging signs. As I mentioned yesterday, whale watching is one of the most popular tourist activities for the 700,000 people who visit Iceland each year and there are ongoing discussions about extending existing whale sanctuary areas to protect the whale watching industry. I am certain that Iceland will eventually stop whaling altogether, but it needs to be on their terms and in their time.