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Astute readers of Alex in Wanderland may note that thus far I’ve had nothing but gushing praise for everything Icelandic (aside, I suppose, from the prices). It’s true, I love almost everything about this tiny island nation.

However, Iceland is embroiled in an international debate over an issue that I feel so passionately about that I feel myself forming a disclaimer every time I start to spout off on the otherwise perfection that is Iceland.

It’s an issue that has inspired more than twentyfive international leaders to make personal pleas to the Icelandic Prime Minister, an issue that has incited tourism boycotts, motivated protests and made Iceland a frequent leper of the international community.

That issue is whaling.

Of course, it’s about much more than whaling. It’s about a country’s right to do as it chooses, an international community’s prerogative to protect one of the world’s most majestic creatures, and the weighted values of history, autonomy, environment, and economy.

Surprisingly, it’s not Icelanders who are eating the harvested whale meat. So who is consuming the thousands of tons of meat from slaughtered whales in Iceland each year? The answer may come as a surprise.

Whaling in IcelandFrom a comedy show at Harpa

A Bit of Background

Whaling in the North Atlantic dates back at least to the 12th century, when records show that whales were sometimes hunted with spears for their blubber. By the late 1800’s, commercial whaling as we know it today was introduced to Iceland by the Norwegians. The industry was unstable in terms of both demand and supply of resources, and Iceland self-imposed a number of bans throughout the early 1900’s (source). However, commercial whaling in Iceland was full steam ahead in 1986, the year a world-wide moratorium on whaling was voted in by the International Whaling Commission (IWC), the global intergovernmental body charged with the conservation of whales and the management of whaling.

The years 1986 through 1989 were fraught with debates over the merits of “scientific whaling,” protests from allied countries, and boycotts of Icelandic fish from international supermarket chains and restaurant brands like Wendy’s. During those years the majority of whale meat spoiled in warehouses or was used as feed on fur farms (source). With the whaling industry providing little economic viability, Iceland chose to ban whaling in 1989. Yet In 2003, Iceland reintroduced “scientific whaling” to much protest from both the international community and local tourism businesses, who feared a global boycott on travel to Iceland (source, source). In 2007, Iceland joined Norway and Japan as the rogue violators of the IWC when they reintroduced commercial whaling, despite more than 25 nations delivering a formal diplomatic protest.

The controversy has not quieted. Today, Icelandic regulations allow for the hunt of both the minke whale and the fin whale, the latter an endangered species. The country has been accused of illegally exporting whale meal to Denmark and Latvia, and has killed hundreds of endangered whales in the process.

Whaling in IcelandFrom Little Hvalasafnid – The Small Whale Museum in Hvalfjörður

In Defense of Whaling

For many Icelanders, the question of “Do you support whaling?” has become synonymous with “Do you support Iceland?” Many claim there are nationalistic and historical reasons for keeping whaling alive. An interesting argument considering Norwegians introduced and operated early whaling stations in Iceland (source). In modern times, commercial whaling has been conducted by a single family, today helmed by Kristján Loftsson – making whaling a family business rather than a national one (source).

Other defenders of the whaling industry cite the comparison to chicken and cow meat, asking why the international community is not up in arms about the consumptions of those animals. Occasionally, scientific claims – disregarded by the majority of the scientific community — are presented claiming that whales, rather than human overfishing, are the reason for depleted fish stocks. One pro-whaling argument is that whaling creates jobs – clearly an effective one, considering Iceland’s return to commercial whaling coincided with one of the most devastating financial crashes in Europe.

When I passed through Hvalfjörður on my road trip through Iceland, I was eager to see Iceland’s main whaling station for myself. I don’t know what I was expecting – a bloody mega warehouse surrounded by Greenpeace protestors? – but whatever it was, I didn’t find it here. The only evidence of this bay’s significance in the worldwide whaling debate was a tiny “museum” attached to a gas station, identified by a cheerful sign reading “Little Hvalasafnid – The Small Whale Museumand accompanied by a cartoon whale illustration.

Whaling is a touchy issue, not openly discussed between travelers and locals for fear of offending another’s politics. On the way back from my diving trip, I gingerly brought up the issue in the van with two native Icelanders and one European who had been living there for years – a group I suspected would likely be anti-whaling. The mood turned icy as one of them bluntly cut off the conversation, stating, “I don’t think you understand the issue as clearly as you think you do, Alex.” It was a telling response, considering that I had been careful not to state any opinion at all.

In Defense of Whales

Despite many urgent environmental issues swarming the world today, whaling in Iceland still makes the cut. Why such passion? It starts with a country violating international law. It is also a question of sustainability and conservation. Many scientists believe whale populations have been too depleted to sustain commercial whaling anytime in the foreseeable future. They are simply not suitable for human harvesting, and contrary to myth they are not responsible for reducing local fish stocks – making their deaths quite senseless. But there is another question, too, that of cetacean intelligence and the level of suffering that these animals undergo during harvest.

These whales — highly social beings with complex form of communication — suffer a cruel and slow death, often taking hours to die. Chris Tuite of the International Fund for Animal Welfare states that despite years of research trying to find one, “there is absolutely no way to kill a whale humanely, and we believe that on that basis alone, it’s time to say goodbye to whaling (source).”

Whale Watching in IcelandA minke whale in Iceland

Who Is Eating The Whale?

One of the most emotional pro-whaling arguments is that eating whale is a nationalistic practice, and many visitors to Iceland believe that trying whale is experiencing an inherent part of Icelandic culture. They could not be more wrong. According to recent Gallup polls, only 3% to 5% of Icelanders eat whale meat regularly (source)! For a country of 320,000 people, that’s only 16,000 customers – certainly not enough to sustain the country’s whaling industry.

So what happens to the rest of it? It’s exported to Japan, where it rots in warehouses due to oversupply – or it’s consumed by curious tourists to Iceland. The same foreign tourists who on principle oppose whaling are keeping the minke whaling industry alive. According to the Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society, 40% of the meat taken from the minke whales killed by Icelandic whalers is eaten by tourists holidaying in the country, obtained in one of the more than 100 shops and restaurants selling the meat.

A scientist in Reykjavík conducted a study in which she surveyed 1,500 tourists heading out on a whale-watching excursion. Imagine her surprise to find that 19% had already sampled whale meat on their trips, and a majority said they would eat it for “cultural and historic” reasons (source). What causes this dichotomy, where 80% of travelers indicate in surveys that they morally oppose whaling, and yet 40% of the whale meat is being eaten by that same group (source)?

Rob Marsland, UK Director of the IFAW, describes what I would call vacation syndrome:“Normal rules are suspended. You think eating whale meat is part of the culture, so it won’t make a difference if I eat it. It’s easy to have two different thoughts in your brain—I’m against whaling, and I’m on holiday so it’s OK to eat whale meat (source).”

In my opinion, it is not okay at all. I was dismayed to see whale meat marketed so heavily towards tourists on the streets of Reykjavík, and to see many popular travel bloggers posting about eating it with little reference to the ethics of doing so. Tourists eating whale meat is not paying respects to Icelandic history, or making a nod to Icelandic culture – it’s tourists indulging their curiosity while turning a blind eye to a cruel industry.

Whale Watching in IcelandMixed messages in Reykjavík

Failed Attempts

Icelanders have lived with decades of pressure from the international community as well as occasionally destructive activism from groups like Sea Shepard, a controversial marine conservation group which Iceland labels an “eco-terrorism group”. Neither has dented Iceland’s resolve to do as it wishes and continue whaling.

In 1986, Sea Shepherd founder Paul Watson led a mission that ended in the sinking of two whaling boats in Reykjavík harbor. Today, Watson doesn’t mince words when he describes his position on Icelandic whaling:

“They do it in a pathetic attempt to hold onto the past so that they can continue to identify with their bloody legacy of whaling. It is a blood sport to them and a way of indulging in the sadistic pleasure of killing whales and thumbing their noses at other nations. Killing whales is the pursuit of little people with small minds with a lust to destroy creatures more intelligent and more beautiful than themselves. Sea Shepherd Conservation Society is supporting an international boycott of tourism to Iceland and a boycott of all Icelandic products (source).”

I support Sea Shepherd both ideologically and with small contributions, but I cringe reading that statement. And I’m not the only one. Icelandic anti-whaling activist Sigursteinn Másson believes there would not be whaling in Iceland today had Sea Shepherd not sunk those two ships. “It was like a terrorist attack on Iceland. It made Icelanders determined to never give in,” he claims (source).

Clearly, verbal and literal attacks on whalers have done little to slow whaling. I believe a truly effective campaign will be one that allows both residents and visitors to be pro-Iceland but also anti-whaling. Fortunately, there is an approach gaining traction in the conservation community that allows a country with something to lose from conservation — like the whaling industry — something more valuable to gain — such as the whale-watching industry.

Whale Watching in IcelandWhale-watching in Faxaflói Bay

The Value Approach

There is another species in our oceans that has suffered cruelly due to human greed, but is now finding protection as conservationists learn to turn that monetary desire in their favor. For sharks, the economic benefits of tourism have been a life saver – literally. After a number of studies broke down the dollar value of a shark for its fin versus the sharks’ lifetime contribution to the shark-tourism industry, governments started to realize that sharks are indeed worth more alive than dead. For example, one highly respected Australian study determined that each individual reef shark was responsible for $179,000 per year in tourism revenue, as opposed to the going rate of $108 per shark fin (source). Last year, the Bahamas joined a growing list of countries including Honduras, The Maldives, and Palau in deciding that data was worth changing laws for. All of those countries have signed into effect a ban on all commercial shark fishing as well as a ban on the trade of shark products (source). The New York Times wrote more about the trend:

Interestingly, the “value approach” to endangered wildlife is catching on. The World Wildlife Fund, the Nature Conservancy and Stanford University have been working together to map and value nature on a larger scale around the world with a tool called InVEST. They have projects under way in Belize, Borneo, Colombia, Namibia, Sumatra, Tanzania, and Virunga in the Congo basin. Source

Could a similar approach, of carefully weighing the economic value of whales alive versus dead, work in Iceland? Tourism is the second-largest industry in Iceland (source). In Reykjavík alone, whale watching attracts more tourists than any other activity. In 2010, whale watching’s total economic contribution to the country was estimated at US$16.4 million. (source). At its peak, whaling in Iceland topped out at a US$4 million dollar a year industry (source).

“Our business is much more profitable than theirs,” states Eva Maria Thorarinsdottir, marketing manager of Reykjavik’s Elding Whale Watching. She claims the minke whales were much more approachable before Iceland resumed hunting, and that they now — understandably – avoid ships (source). An end to whaling and the resulting increase in sightings that Ms. Thorarinsdottir infers would result, would undoubtedly be a boon to the growing whale-watching industry – one that is growing globally to generate more than $2 billion per year (source).

Until then, tour operators have reported customers cancelling their trips as political gestures (source) while a quick glance at sites like scubaboard.com, the Internet’s most popular scuba diving forum, reveals that while many are eager to dive in Iceland’s beautiful waters they won’t be visiting until whaling is ceased.

While in Reykjavík, my family and I were guests of the Elding Whale Watching boat, one of many similar vessels heading out to Faxaflói Bay. We donned bright red jumpsuits and stood on the deck listening to the accented narration of our jovial guide while we spotted playful white beak porpoises, a colony of tiny puffins, and even a few shy minke whales. I crossed my fingers for a sighting of the endangered fin whale, but none came out to play. Perhaps they were seeking shelter in safer waters.

 

Elding Whale WatchingWhale-watching with Elding

A Call to Action

While the statistics on whale populations may be bleak, policies are moving in the right direction. In 2011, President Obama ordered the State Department to keep Iceland’s whaling activities under review while he considered trade sanctions against the country for their continued violations of the IWC – a move that would certainly test Iceland’s claims of economic dependence on whaling (source). That same year, Kristjan Loftsson, the Icelandic whaling mogul responsible for killing 280 endangered fin whales over the past six years announced that due to economic issues, including difficulties in trading meat with Japan post-tsunami, he would not be fin whaling in 2012 (source). While Mr. Loftsson says he hopes to resume fin whaling in the future and he continues to hunt minke whale in the meantime, perhaps this interlude will give the conservation community time to band together.

I join Greenpeace, Sea Shepard, the International Whaling Commission, The International Fund for Animal Welfare, The Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society and many other conservation and scientific groups in urging you not to consume whale meat when visiting Iceland. These magnificent creatures are meant to be observed where they belong, in the sea — not as a steak on your dinner plate. Put your dollars towards toward the economically and environmentally sustainable business of whale watching.

If you feel passionately about this issue, there are ways to be proactive. You can donate to Greenpeace or IFAW’s campaigns, sign a petition to ban Icelandic whaling, or join Pierce Brosnan in sending a message to President Obama to impose trade sanctions on Iceland for illegal whaling.

Whale Watching in Iceland

This is a controversial topic, and I love a good debate! Let me know how you feel in the comments. Are you pro or anti whaling? Have you or would you try whale meat in Iceland?

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105 Comments...
  • Hannah
    September 10 2012

    Wow Alex, what a well executed post on a very important topic. I am in 100% agreement, and as a vegetarian animal lover, I too was deeply upset to see other bloggers eating whale meat. I am so glad that you have raised this subject, and have done so in such a thorough and compelling manner. I have loved following your trip to Iceland, and would love to visit the country, but will definitely be waiting until the whaling ban is adhered to once again. I hope this post will help prevent people from eating whale meat in the future; we have a global responsibility to protect these beautiful creatures and keep them in the sea and off the menu.
    Hannah recently posted..The truth shall set you free

    • Alex
      September 10 2012

      Ah, a fellow animal loving blogger 🙂 I’m really interested to read that you’ve held off on visiting Iceland until they follow the ban… I wish there were statistics on that! I’m sure Iceland would be interested to see them. Kudos to you for being a person who carries their beliefs through to their actions so effectively.

      PS – I totally watched Earthlings after our dinner, and it had a great impact on me. Thank you for the recommendation!

  • Sky
    September 10 2012

    Alex, I am so impressed right now! Thank you for writing this. There was some much information in this that I had no idea about. I was against the idea of whaling in general before reading this but now I feel like I have the facts to back up my opinion. I would still visit Iceland, probably, but would choose whale-watching over anything related to whaling.

    Thanks for opening this up to discussion – hopefully everyone can have a mature change of opinions. I look forward to reading others’ thoughts!
    Sky recently posted..Dealing with Unexpected Changes

    • Alex
      September 10 2012

      Well thank YOU for reading all 2,000+ words of it! I know that goes well beyond the average blog readers’ attention span 🙂 I look forward to reading everyone’s thoughts as well… hopefully we can really get a conversation going here.

  • Chrystal McKay
    September 10 2012

    Wow, very nicely written piece. It is a very important topic and I would certainly say that I am pro-Iceland but anti-whaling. And I don’t often delve into something simply because it is a “cultural experience” (or not truly one as eating whale meat isn’t traditional Icelandic). I wouldn’t eat Whale meat because I am against whaling, same way I wouldn’t eat snake blood because I think its cruel. I don’t ever feel I’m missing out on a cultural experience or not being “adventurous” enough, I feel like I am sticking with my morals and in the end, what else do we have. I hope the country can change the whale hunting to whale watching and make their tourist industry boom enough with that aspect to eliminate the other. Great piece and a highly fascinating topic. One that sadly won’t be solved soon.
    Chrystal McKay recently posted..Not JUST Another Ancient Ruin: Butrint, Albania

    • Alex
      September 10 2012

      I didn’t participate in any of the snake blood stuff either when I was in Southeast Asia. I agree, in the end my beliefs are more important than anything else — from a wild Facebook status to crazy bragging rights over what weird animals I’ve consumed. Thank you for your thoughtful comment!

  • Gina
    September 10 2012

    So well-written, Alex. I hope if more people protest and stop eating the meat as a “cultural” thing to do, this practice will eventually stop. Whales are intelligent, feeling mammals and it’s so sad that this is happening to them.
    Gina recently posted..How to Cope When Your Spouse Travels Without You

    • Alex
      September 10 2012

      Thank you Gina! I feel like I was back in college writing a research paper, ha 🙂 I’m glad it payed off and its resonating with people!

  • D.J. - The World of Deej
    September 10 2012

    Great stuff….While I knew that whaling was an issue, I mostly associated it with Japanese hunters. I had no idea how much it is done in Iceland…
    D.J. – The World of Deej recently posted..How To Score An Upgrade – Hotel Confidential

    • Alex
      September 10 2012

      Japan is definitely at the forefront of whaling in terms of size of the industry and the market, but Norway and Iceland are absolutely participants as well. I’m glad this post is helping to spread the word.

  • Keren
    September 10 2012

    Very interesting read Alex, it’s great to see such a well researched, well written article about this subject … most of what we see and hear is so full of strong biased emotions that it’s hard to get a clear picture of what’s going on. I actually thought that Japan was the only country that still whaled, probably a byproduct of the fact that they do it so close to Australia and therefore it gets talked about more here.
    Keren recently posted..If I were a Twit(erer) …

    • Alex
      September 11 2012

      Well, I definitely think my opinion is pretty clear here, but I did try to show both sides 🙂 On some levels I do agree with the argument that a country should be able to make decisions for itself but I think history has shown there are times when the international community needs to step in. Also, I think the argument would be very different if 90% of the meat was being eaten by Icelanders, but it’s not…

      • Keren
        September 12 2012

        Absolutely, if it was historically and culturally relevant it would be a very different argument but when most of what is caught is either being eaten by tourists or rotting in Japan (this makes my blood boil given how much whaling they do themselves!) then it’s difficult to justify.
        Keren recently posted..If I were a Twit(erer) …

  • Amanda
    September 10 2012

    Great post Alex! Well researched and well written. You should submit it to HuffPost or the Albany newspaper! The most interesting part for me is the divers’ responses- I would definitely think they would be anti whaling.

    • Alex
      September 11 2012

      I was certainly hoping to submit it somewhere — those are some great suggestions! Thanks!

  • YOU ROCK FOR WRITING THIS POST!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
    Andi of My Beautiful Adventures recently posted..Puerto Rico & Dominica: Day 2

    • Alex
      September 11 2012

      Ha, thanks Andi! I appreciate it 🙂

  • Stephen Schreck
    September 10 2012

    That is awful! I am getting ready to start my travel blogging life and I vow to never eat whale!

    • Alex
      September 11 2012

      Hey Stephen, best of luck with blogging and thanks for pledging not to eat whale!

  • Olivia
    September 10 2012

    Wow, Alex this is one of your best pieces!

    On that same note, If you’re interested in doing some freelance work writing my research papers this semester let’s talk 😉

    • Alex
      September 11 2012

      Wait are you telling me you read the words and didn’t just look at the pictures for once?! Ha. But um yeah I really felt like I was back in college with this one! I totally forgot that overwhelming feeling when you first sit down to write a research paper and it’s all information overload.

  • TammyOnTheMove
    September 10 2012

    Whaling is a horrific thing to do, but other fish is also in great danger. As you mentioned sharks are brutally slaughtered for their fins too, so I am glad that some countries now realize that sharks are more valuable through tourism than they are through the food industry. Tunas are also horrible overfished and a lot of innocent animals end up in the nets (turtles, dolphins etc.). What really upsets me about Japanese whalers is that they claim to be researchers and put it on the ships in large letters. Yet it is so obvious that they are not killing all these whales for research. It makes me sick, that so little has been done about this. Thanks for pointing out ways to support the fight against whaling-I am going to sign Pierce Morgan’s petition.
    TammyOnTheMove recently posted..Phea-chen’s trip to the zoo

    • Alex
      September 11 2012

      Yes I could definitely write a novel on the shark issue! Luckily sharks are really in the public eye right now and finally getting the attention they deserve in conservation. I definitely understand your frustration, but when I start to feel that way I remind myself of all the wonderful groups out there pouring their hearts into protecting these creatures and I feel a bit calmer!

  • Savvy Scot
    September 11 2012

    Hey! Great post… Realistically it is not a very big portion of the Icelandic population eating whales then is it? Just a tourist attraction. For the records, I am TOTALLY AGAINST it!

    • Alex
      September 11 2012

      Yup, just 3-5%! Not a large portion at all.

  • Megan
    September 11 2012

    im so glad you took the time to write this heartfelt and fact-ridden post. most people (myself included) didnt realize the impact even just tasting whale would have on the species as a whole.

    when i was in iceland i never tried it because i felt it was wrong…despite claims that the particular species id be tasting was not endangered. i just couldnt bring myself to do it. and after moving to norway and eating things id never imagined id eat (for example, sheep head), i decided to taste whale one time. i actually felt super guilty afterwards. i didnt know the facts behind it, i just knew that there were species eaten around the world that were endangered and being mistreated or wasted.

    i will NEVER eat or even suggest someone visiting me in norway to eat. it is unethical and just unnecessary given all the other foods around the country that is anything but poor.
    Megan recently posted..Life is Nothing Without a Little Chaos…

    • Alex
      September 11 2012

      Hey Megan, thanks for taking the time to share your story! I think you hit the nail on the head about not knowing… I really think if tourists knew the facts (that tourism is largely sustaining whaling) that they would not eat whale. Lets hope this post reaches a lot of people then!

  • Torre – Fearful Adventurer
    September 11 2012

    Tell me which bloggers ate whale meat. I’m going to hunt them down, slice them up, and devour them medium rare.
    Torre – Fearful Adventurer recently posted..“I’m Afraid to Fail” And Other Excuses for Being Average

    • Alex
      September 11 2012

      Ha. Actually the comments so far are totally one sided… I’m really hoping some of them will stop by and share about their decisions.

  • Erica Erickson Forehand
    September 11 2012

    This is an excellent post and is written beautifully! Good job!! 🙂

    As an animal rights supporter and long time vegetarian, I am completely against whaling. Its a shame that these beautiful endangered animals are subject to such cruelty for their meat. Whaling is something I have heard about before, but did not really know all the details. Thank you bringing light to this very important topic!
    Erica Erickson Forehand recently posted..The RNC Comes to Town

    • Alex
      September 11 2012

      Thank you Erica! I’m glad I’m able to spread around some whaling facts 🙂

  • Emily in Chile
    September 11 2012

    This is a great post, thank you for sharing! I’ve seen a couple posts from bloggers trying “traditional Icelandic food” and wondered if I’d eat whale…on the one hand, I thought, I’m always up for something cultural, but on the other hand I don’t agree with whaling. It’s good to know that whale meat isn’t even particularly cultural, making my eventual choice an easy no to whale meat.
    Emily in Chile recently posted..Saturday in Santiago: Esquina de Dioses

    • Alex
      September 12 2012

      Emily, I’m glad to hear this post may have helped influence you to say “no” to whale meat in Iceland… I think that’s the greatest compliment a blogger could receive!

  • Ayngelina
    September 11 2012

    Wow a complex issue and very similar to the one with sealing in Canada.
    Ayngelina recently posted..Eiffel Tower Reunites in New York City

    • Alex
      September 12 2012

      Yeah, there are definitely connections there. However — and I don’t know much about the seal issue — I believe that tourism isn’t involved in the seal hunt in any way, is it? That’s my biggest problem with whaling in Iceland, that tourism has such a huge part in keeping the industry alive.

  • Caty al
    September 11 2012

    Thanks for all the information! I didn’t know half the facts that you stated. It makes me sick that people hunt whales and then eat their meat.It’s great to see that you use your blog and educate us readers on such an important topic.I am sure you have reached a lot of people and many will follow suit and help stop the whaling!

    • Alex
      September 12 2012

      Thank you so much Caty! I really appreciate your comment and hope you are right 🙂

  • Idun
    September 11 2012

    It’s interesting it’s such a touchy subject in Iceland. Here in Norway, at least in the south, I think many (especially least younger) people doesn’t even know we do whaling at all. I’ve never heard anyone talk about it here, know anyone who eat whale or even seen whale meat in a store. I actually had to look up a bit about whaling in Norway after reading this, as I didn’t know anything. I’m against whaling as well, so fortunately it looks like whaling here is declining. They’ve only been catching half of what they are allowed lately and the number of people doing whaling is decreasing, so hopefully whaling here will just quietly die out when the guys doing it now are too old to work.
    Idun recently posted..I’m in love..with sea turtles

    • Alex
      September 12 2012

      I definitely know next to nothing about whaling in Norway, but one reason for the discrepancy may be that Norway initially opposed the IWC’s ruling, making them exempt from sanctions (if I understand the ruling correctly!) That at least clears up the legal imbalance Iceland has been embroiled in over this issue.

  • Kent @ NVR
    September 11 2012

    What a great post. those pictures say it all.

    “Tourists eating whale meat is not paying respects to Icelandic history, or making a nod to Icelandic culture – it’s tourists indulging their curiosity while turning a blind eye to a cruel industry.”

    This will stick with me, and I’ll spread the word.
    Kent @ NVR recently posted..We Want Marriage Equality – We Need Your Help

    • Alex
      September 12 2012

      Thanks Kent! Your last line is the greatest compliment any blogger could hope to hear…

  • Rika
    September 11 2012

    This is a really well-written piece Alex! Thank you! I didn’t know much about it but I do make a point to look into these kinds of things when I travel. Here on Roatan, conch is a big no-no yet I see it on all the tourist menus (while an invasive species like the lionfish, which everyone is encouraged to hunt, only makes it on one restaurant’s list). Kudos to you for getting the info out there.
    Rika recently posted..Roatan Month 1 Roundup

    • Alex
      September 12 2012

      Ah, lionfish. I could write an entire post on that issue as well! What are we going to do about those little guys? I was happy when I was in Roatan to see local Divemasters being so proactive.

  • Giselle and Cody
    September 12 2012

    Great post! Thank you for being aware of others suffering.
    It is time that we think not only of ourselves. All sentient beings suffer. The planet is also suffering greatly.
    We will definitely be sharing.

    • Alex
      September 12 2012

      Thank you so much for sharing. If I had one post that I would love to spread around the interwebs, this would be it!

  • First of all, great post. It was well researched and you did a good job to present both sides. Now, please keep in mind how nice and full of praise those first two sentences were and don’t skewer me for the rest of this……

    I ate whale meat, both cooked and raw, when I was living in Japan. I’m also not opposed to whaling, assuming of course that the whales being hunted are not endangered (which Minke whales aren’t), but I don’t exactly support it either.

    The impact on the environment from whaling is minimal, when compared to the impact of most other commercial fishing operations, so although I generally support environmental issues and animal rights, to me, whaling does not conflict with those views.

    I simply feel it’s an issue individual countries should be allowed to decide for themselves. Try to imagine how people in the West would feel if Hindi activists launched an anti-beef campaign similar to the current anti-whaling campaigns. Or if Muslims or Jews did the same for pork. It would not go over well.

    That brings me to the one aspect of this issue where I do have a strong opinion: Sea Shephard. To me their activities are akin to (but obviously not yet on the same scale as) anti-abortionists blowing up abortion clinics or terrorists terrorizing (and all the activities that entails).

    Similar to what the Icelandic anti-whaling activist said in your quote, I think the Japanese public has been slowly moving away from consuming whale meat and would have been doing so at a much faster rate were it not for groups like Sea Shepherd. When you violently attack a nation’s citizens, they naturally band together to oppose you; rather than further your cause, you set it back.

    As such, they are not really fighting for a cause, the are fighting for a purpose, ie they are trying to give meaning to their own lives. If they truly cared about this particular cause as much as they simply care about having a cause (any cause really), I am positive they would find a more effective way to reach their stated goals. Plenty of others have and still do, as you touched on in mentioning the “value approach” with respect to shark fins.
    Daniel McBane – Funny Travel Stories recently posted..Tha Khaek – Why Are We here?

    • Alex
      September 12 2012

      Daniel, thank you so much for commenting. I know there are plenty of people out there who disagree with me, so I’m glad one commented here! 🙂

      I absolutely agree with you that the world’s fishing industries are having a devastating effect on our planet. For this reason I abstain from eating any fish products (though this was not a huge sacrifice for me I admit). While our views on Sea Shepard aren’t perfectly aligned, I think in this case they may have done more harm than good. Other groups, like the IFAW, seem to be making better headway.

      I do sometimes feel conflicted because in many ways I respect other cultures’ right to follow their beliefs without interference. I think if Icelanders were eating 100% of the whale caught in their waters I would have a much harder time writing an anti-whaling plea. But that is not the case here. My strongest objection to whaling in Iceland is the fact that the industry is being supported by wasted exports to Japan (already too much supply and not enough demand) and TOURISTS!

      It seems like you have come to your decision after careful thought and analysis, and so although I don’t agree with you on consuming whale meat, I do respect your opinion and the thorough way you explain it!

      • Thank you for you kind response to my comment. I think however people may feel about whaling, it won’t be an issue for too much longer, at least not with respect to Japan (or Iceland either from what I gathered from your post).

        I know the older generation of Japanese has a somewhat nostalgic view of eating whale meat, as it used to be a big part of school lunch menus, but that is no longer the case. As a result, the younger generation wouldn’t really miss whale meat if they no longer had access to it and are therefore much less inclined to fight to preserve the tradition.
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  • Krista C.
    September 12 2012

    Well said Alex! I 100% agree with everything you said about whaling. I have been conflicted about visiting Iceland because of this very issue but everything you say about it resonates with me. I find it incredibly disappointing that tourists are supporting the whaling industry, not Icelanders.

    • Alex
      September 13 2012

      Hi Krista, thanks for your comment! I was happy to visit Iceland and support/promote the whale watching issue and hopefully bring attention to the whaling issue, but I definitely understand and respect those that are choosing not to visit until the issue is resolved. It seems from the comments here you’re not alone!

  • Federico
    September 13 2012

    Well researched and written post, and of course is controversial for some. I have my convictions clear: I’m against it. And I’m pretty sure if asked individually more than 50% of icelanders would be against it. Have you watched a documentary called The Cove about dolphin killings in Japan?

    • Alex
      September 13 2012

      I absolutely LOVE The Cove… I’m a documentary nut in general. In fact, if you’re passionate about ocean issues I really recommend Shark Water, it’s like the cove for our toothier friends 🙂

  • Erica
    September 13 2012

    I just couldn’t bring myself to do it…

    Ugh.
    Erica recently posted..Faster than a New York Minute

    • Alex
      September 14 2012

      Well I’m glad to hear it 🙂

  • Abby
    September 16 2012

    A heartfelt and well-written plea, Alex! Those photos are horrifying — thank you for ending with such a beautiful one. That is so interesting that it is not even eaten in Iceland. Ugh.
    Abby recently posted..New York State of Mind

    • Alex
      September 18 2012

      Thank you Abby, for this comment and for sharing the post! I appreciate your help spreading the word 🙂

  • Alex Andersen
    September 17 2012

    This read like a beautifully written editorial and has taught me to think twice before indulging in exotic dishes and experiences just because I’m there. I often push myself to try things based on the “when in Rome” mentality but never really considered that as tourists we’re actually driving the industry. Thank you for using your travels and your blog to do something meaningful and spread the word about an issue that needs discussion.

    • Alex
      September 18 2012

      Hi Alex, thank you so much for this comment! It’s the greatest compliment a blogger could get to know that they opened someone’s eyes to an important issue. I’m glad to hear this piece had an influence on you!

  • Jason Castellani
    September 18 2012

    Thanks so much for a thorough, well thought out piece on a very important topic. There are many issues that us travelers can contribute to while exploring the world. This one here, that you have touched on is one of my most passionate issues. There is also the issue of elephant tours in Thailand, hunting in Africa and cage diving with sharks. I think we can all be a bit more responsible when we travel to help create a more sustainable and healthy environment. Thanks for spreading the word!
    Jason Castellani recently posted..Travel Photo – Were the Mayans Cannibals?