Friday, July 5, 2013

Sanctuary in North Iceland Could End Whaling

By Jonny Zwick (@jonnyzwick) There are reasons for anti-whaling supporters to stay optimistic about the prospect of abolishing the archaic industry of whaling in Iceland. Despite the estimated 21 fin whales and 20 minke whales that have been slaughtered along the coast lines of the island nation this Summer, murmurs of a possible sanctuary in the North provide hope for those opposed. The primary reason that minke whalers have been pushed north this season is the implementation of a whale sanctuary in Faxafloi Bay. Faxafloi Bay lies right outside of the capital city, Reykjavik, and is famous for it’s fruitful whale and puffin watching. Although the invisible sanctuary line doesn’t run as far as whale-watching companies hoped that it would, it has restricted whalers in their deplorable practice. The significance goes beyond the recognition from Iceland’s Minister of Fisheries that whale watching may be more economically beneficial than whaling; it greatly depletes whalers already limited areas to hunt. I use the words, “already limited” because minke whales are mostly coastal/inshore marine mammals. Whalers can’t simply ignore the sanctuary by travelling further out to sea. Well, they could, but they wouldn’t find any whales to hunt. A sanctuary in the North, where whale watching is growing at an extreme rate, should surely put this controversial industry to bed. With a slowing consumer market and a shrinking hunting zone, I would recommend minke whalers start buffering their resumes if the line is put in place.
Let it be clear that the sanctuary in the North is in preliminary stages and may just be speculation. However, I am preaching this optimism due to the fact that I recently spent four days in the most important territories regarding the sanctuary and what I found out was very promising. An Icelandic colleague of mine recommended I travel with him as he promoted whale welfare by speaking with whale watching companies, restaurant owners, and the citizens who define these communities. We visited Akureyri, Husavik, Dalvik, and Siglufordur. The following developments signify the positive indications that a whale sanctuary is on the northern horizon:
*Husavik - The fjord is narrow, and massive snow-capped mountains serve as a remarkable backdrop for an ideal trip to see the majestic creatures in their natural habitat. There were only two companies, Gentle Giants and North Sailing, who ran whale-watching expeditions until last month. The introduction of a third company, Salka, not only proves that the whale watching market is growing outside of Reykjavik, but will also help transform the other two companies from competitors to teammates. We spoke to all three companies and they agreed that now is the time to unite and work together to ensure there are whales in the areas they are bringing tourists. *Akureyri – Another new company, Ambassador, has emerged in Akureyri. *Akureyri - My colleague and I spoke with restaurant owners who promised they would not sell whale meat, acknowledging that serving these dishes in their newly identified whale watching community would be a massive contradiction. Six restaurants now have stickers on their front doors stating that they are “whale friendly” and don’t offer whale meat. The stickers help introduce tourists to the notion that eating the marine mammals they recently appreciated is not an Icelandic norm. *Dalvik – We spoke with a whale watching CEO who, last year, was a proponent for whaling. He was convinced that the two industries could co-exist, but now revokes those beliefs, and is committed to promoting a sanctuary. *Dalvik – Arctic Sea Tours, a small, family run company, expressed their joy to us about how well their business was doing. Freire, who started the company, told us there has been a 100% increase in clientele for three successive years. They have purchased a second boat and have hired local citizens outside of their family lineage. *Siglurfjordur – This is where the minke whaling vessel, the Hrafnreydor, is docked. We looked for the vessel upon arrival, but couldn’t find it in the picturesque harbor where every other ship in the small town resided. We eventually discovered the ship completely isolated, hidden behind desolate industrial buildings closer to the mouth of the fjord. Speaking with locals revealed that our suspicions were correct and the whaling boat had been purposefully hidden. Members of the community seemed shocked when we informed them of the ship’s presence. They vehemently told us the whalers were not welcome. These discoveries provide an insight to the current status of the booming whale watching industry. Attitudes are shifting and jobs are being created. Whale watching companies understand the threat that whalers pose to their business, and are teaming up rather than competing, to ensure there are whales for their tourist clientele to observe. Their growth and unification plays a vital role in demanding the imposition of a northern sanctuary, subsequently ousting whalers from the North, and ending whaling as a whole in Iceland.

No comments: