Newspaper article The Record (Bergen County, NJ)

Quandary: Iceland a Whaling Nation

Newspaper article The Record (Bergen County, NJ)

Quandary: Iceland a Whaling Nation

Article excerpt

I could not write a story about Iceland without bringing up the subject of whaling.

Iceland hunts whales -- including the endangered fin and threatened minke whales, which is in open defiance of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES).

Iceland had stopped whaling when the International Whaling Commission (of which it was a member) passed a moratorium on commercial whaling in 1986, but started up again in 2006. Actually, only one company in Iceland, Hvalur, whales commercially, selling most of its catch to Japan. The company has increased its harvest of whales every year since then; Iceland determines its own catch quota, and recently announced new fin whale quotas that allow up to 770 to be killed in the next five years.

The pro-whaling side says there are plenty of fin whales in the population around Iceland, and they aren't going to let a bunch of people from landlocked countries tell them what to do with their natural marine resources.

The anti-whaling side says pointing to one population is shortsighted, especially since the fin whale was almost driven to extinction by the whaling industry by the 1960s and overall is still far short of healthy population numbers.

The country's outright disregard for international agreements has elicited numerous official statements from the EU, the United States etc., though no official economic sanctions have been applied. For travelers who are up on the whaling controversy, however, Iceland - long known for its sustainable environmental policies and its wealth of natural wonders - has become a quandary.

Some anti-whaling groups are calling for a total boycott on travel to the country. And that, in fact, was my first response to the whaling issue. There were other places to visit in the world, after all.

Then again, there are ways to support the opposition to whaling, by visiting the country and spending money that promotes the whale- friendly movement.

And there is one in Iceland.

While the tourism officials didn't want to discuss the effects of whaling on tourism, the owners of Elding Whalewatching, one of the first whale-watching companies in the country, were extremely helpful in providing background on whaling in the country, as well as the current situation. Vignir Sigursveinsson, who owns Elding with his wife Gretar, says that it's noticeably harder to find whales to watch on their excursions since whaling resumed, for one thing. But on the plus side for tourists, the whale-watching companies, along with the International Fund for Animal Welfare, have formed a group called Icewhale, which is working to inform and educate Icelanders and tourists about the whale meat industry in Iceland, including the brutality of the hunt.

The Icewhale program most helpful for travelers is no doubt the recently debuted "Meet Us Don't Eat Us" campaign, which makes it easier for people to patronize restaurants where whale meat isn't on the menu. …

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