On social media in recent days many people have been calling for a boycott on travel to, and products from, Iceland following the killing of what is believed to be a blue whale by a whaling company. But is that the right way to approach the issue?
By the same token should we boycott France because of foie gras and veal? Should we not read Manga or buy a Nissan because they’re Japanese and the country still sanctions the slaughter of anything and everything in the ocean under the guise of “science”? Quite frankly, no country is exempt from environmental impact or animal welfare concerns – so just where exactly do we draw the line?
I vehemently disagree with whaling of any kind, but cards on the table, I have been to Iceland. And I loved every minute of it. It’s a spectacular, magical country full of friendly people and a whole heap of natural wonder. I had previously been of the mentality that I wouldn’t visit because of whaling, but after doing some careful research to see if there was anything we could do we were, in fact, able to visit without supporting the industry and exercise our own little protest by only eating in “whale friendly” places.
There is a growing trend for eco-tourism in the country, so more people are interested in seeing living, breathing whales than tasting a supposed “traditional dish”. It’s reported that most Icelanders do not actually consume whale meat on a regular basis, a lot of the meat is for the tourism industry or export to the aforementioned Japan. I’m a big believer in not tarring everyone with the same brush and a 2017 survey showed that less than half of Icelandic people support whaling, with only 35% supporting whaling for the endangered fin whale.
In this Whale and Dolphin Conservation (WDC) blog article from May of this year, Vanessa Williams-Grey, head of the WDC’s Responsible Whale Watching Programme, highlights the shifting mood of not only the public, but also the government and tourism industry. The Icelandic government are to hold a review of whaling later this year and MPs have called for it to “take into account the economic and social impact of whaling upon whale watching and other tourism sectors and also take account of scientific research, animal welfare and other concerns”.
There are lots of companies offering whale watching and other wildlife based activities, and you can pick up a tour from Reykjavik, Husavik and other areas. We didn’t watch whales during our visit, primarily because we happened to go during the epic snowstorm of February 2017, but the opportunity to see a real-life giant in the blue whale is something I would love to experience – and we will likely visit again.
Let’s also not forget that in other areas Iceland is one of the greenest countries in the world. Blessed with an abundance of energy just under the ground, Iceland generates almost 100% of its electricity and 85% of its total primary energy from geothermal and hydro-power.
So does a boycott really make any sense? It’s very rarely a whole nations fault that something immoral and illegal happens on their soil, and boycotting may weaken the very things that can effect change. Why not instead put our spending power into ecotourism and show the Icelandic government that we should shoot whales with cameras, not harpoons.