It’s nice when the economically responsible thing to do is also the right thing to do. Iceland announced in February its intentions to end whaling by 2024 because demand for whale meat has decreased significantly.
“There is little proof that there is any economic advantage to this activity,” said Svandís Svavarsdóttir, the country’s fisheries minister.
There is a seriously diminishing taste for whale meat abroad. Iceland used to send much of its meat to Japan, which recently began whaling again and doesn’t buy as much from Iceland. The only other major consumers of Icelandic whale meat are actually tourists who think it is an Icelandic delicacy.
This is ending, though, as a new initiative at stopping whaling blooms along with a booming industry: whale-watching.
“Meet us, don’t eat us”
A group of local whale-watching companies, led by the non-profits International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) and IceWhale are fighting for the permanent end to whaling. Their slogan is “meet us, don’t eat us.”
The thrust of the campaign is economic, aiming to stop Iceland’s 2 million yearly tourists from eating whale meat and restaurants from serving it. They led a successful petition that over 175,000 people signed and pledged not to eat whale meat. More than 60 restaurants have pledged to stop serving whale meat, and they have also had an effect on the government.
“[Politicians] have realized that a whale that’s alive brings more economic benefits than a dead whale,” says Belén García Ovide, founder of Ocean Missions.
Whale-watching has boomed as an industry as more tourists and locals jump ride the eco-tourism wave. Approximately $12 million a year is now made by whale-watching companies. One in five tourists go on whale-watching trips while in Iceland, and local fisheries have greatly expanded non-whaling zones offshore. There is also a growing body of research to support a change in boating, requiring that boats travel slowly and quietly as not to stress the whales. In any case, it’s in Iceland’s interest to keep whales alive and happy for its business and biodiversity.
While this is only a voluntary response by businesses and individuals for now, the government and people of Iceland largely see the economic change in the seas, and more Icelanders are helping to end whaling ahead of schedule.