Magazine article Earth Island Journal

Whalewatching Takes off in Iceland. (International Marine Mammal Project)

Magazine article Earth Island Journal

Whalewatching Takes off in Iceland. (International Marine Mammal Project)

Article excerpt

Husavik, a fishing community of 2,500 inhabitants on the northeast coast of Iceland, was until recently known only for a beautiful wooden church built in 1907. But in the last five years Husavik has become the whale watching capital of Europe, taking almost 23,000 tourists out to see the whales in our beautiful bay.

Even though whale watching is the fastest growing sector of the Icelandic tourist industry, with over 60,000 tourists last year, there is still a constant call for the resumption of whaling by old time whalers and a number, of Parliament members. In 2001 and again this year, Iceland tried and failed to get into the International Whaling Commission (IWC) with a reservation to the Whaling Moratorium set in 1983. Approval of the full membership of the IWC would be needed to resume whaling in Iceland. The ban on trade of whale products could only be lifted by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), not by IWC.

The most common pro-whaling argument in Iceland is that whales may deplete fish stocks once their numbers recover. Scientists at Iceland's Marine Research Institute (MRI) claim that minke whales consume 1 million tons of small fish and krill, and several thousand tons of cod every year in the mid-North Atlantic. The MRI proposes that 250 minke whales and 100 fin whales should be killed every year.

Johann Sigurjonsson, manager of the MRI, stated last year that taking 250 minke whales would not have any effect on the stock of minke whales in the mid-North Atlantic Ocean, as they have estimated the stock to be 58-70,000 animals. "It is like a drop in the ocean," Sigurjonsson said. If taking 250 minkes is not going to have any negative effect on minke whale stocks around Iceland, how can they claim it is going to increase the annual cod catch?

There are now 12 Icelandic companies offering regular whale watching trips during the summer. These companies are located in nine different towns and villages around the island. The growth of the whale watching business has indirectly provided a strong argument against the popular attitude toward Iceland's resumption of whaling as it is now providing a lot of new jobs and revenue for the local communities around the island and also for the economy of Iceland in general.

The direct value of whalewatching is estimated at $8 million. Direct value includes costs for such items as air travel, bus transport, car hire, lodging, dining, gasoline, whalewatching excursions and souvenirs. According to the Institution for Economics in Iceland, indirect revenue, incurred by other services provided for the tourists by private companies and the public sector, brings the total revenue of whalewatching in Iceland to $13 million.

Clearly, the value of whalewatching to the Icelandic economy means that whalewatching needs to be taken into serious consideration by the government. However, many politicians are not willing to consider the value of whalewatching when arguing for resumption of whaling. …

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