Icelandic government officials recently announced they were extending quotas for the whaling industry to continue hunting thousands of whales—2,130 baleen whales over the next five years, 209 fin whales and 217 minke whales per year, to be exact. Iceland and Norway are the only two countries that currently allow commercial whaling, technically speaking, anyway. Japan is set to officially resume whaling soon, though they’ve harvested whales for “research” purposes for years.
Both Iceland and Norway hunt whales in open defiance of a 1986 moratorium by the International Whaling Commission banning the hunting of medium and large-sized whales, and both the minke and the fin whale—the second-largest whale species on the planet—apply. The market for whale meat is pretty limited too, with Japan, Norway, and the Republic of Palau being the only customers, according to the Icelandic Travel Industry Association.
And that association is concerned about what the extension of commercial whaling could mean for Iceland’s tourism sector, an industry that accounts for 8 percent of the country’s GDP. In recent years, money from tourists, almost all of whom head to Iceland specifically because of the spectacular natural environment and adventure opportunities exist there, has actually outstripped what the fishing industry brings in. Though, in recent years, the increases in tourism dollars year over year has begun to wane.
So questions among some Icelandic officials have started to rise. Does continued whaling hurt Iceland’s image as a place of protected natural beauty? Will whaling put off well-heeled adventure travelers who are unlikely to support harvesting whales, some of which are endangered?
Some polls show that the only a minority of Icelanders support continuing whaling, and it’s unclear how much economic benefit whaling provides to the country. University studies have shown little effect on the tourism industry in Iceland from continued whaling, but those studies are controversial and have been highly criticized.
“We’ve been pointing out that the tourist doesn’t just appear on the deck of the whale watching boat,” Jóhannes Skúlason of the Icelandic Travel Industry Association said in an interview. “The tourist goes through a long period of planning his vacation, where he wants to go and do, and there are a lot of things that affect that decision—news of Icelandic whaling can be one of these influencing factors.” While the market for whale meat and byproducts is small, “Our market is the entire globe,” said the Icelandic Travel Industry Association.
Photo: Davide Cantelli