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Dead sperm whale in The Wash, East Anglia, England. © CSIP-ZSL.

What have dead whales ever done for us?

When dead whales wash up on dry land they provide a vital food source for...
Risso's dolphin © Andy Knight

We’re getting to know Risso’s dolphins in Scotland so we can protect them

Citizen scientists in Scotland are helping us better understand Risso's dolphins by sending us their...
Pilot whales pooing © Christopher Swann

Talking crap and carcasses to protect our planet

We know we need to save the whale to save the world because they are...
Fin whales are targeted by Icelandic whalers

Speaking truth to power – my week giving whales a voice

The International Whaling Commission (IWC) meeting is where governments come together to make decisions about whaling...

Why do whales and dolphins strand on beaches?

People often ask me 'why' whales and dolphins do one thing or another.  I'm a...
A spinner dolphin leaping © Andrew Sutton/Eco2

Head in a spin – my incredible spinner dolphin encounter

Sri Lanka is home to at least 30 species of whales and dolphins, from the...
Sperm whale (physeter macrocephalus) Gulf of California. The tail of a sperm whale.

To protect whales, we must stop ignoring the high seas

Almost two-thirds of the ocean, or 95% of the habitable space on Earth, are sloshing...
WDC team at UN Ocean conference

Give the ocean a chance – our message from the UN Ocean Conference

I'm looking out over the River Tejo in Lisbon, Portugal, reflecting on the astounding resilience...
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Port River dolphins

New report reveals 100,000 dolphins and small whales hunted every year

When you hear the words ‘dolphin hunts’ it’s likely that you think of Japan or...

Minke whale hunts stop in Iceland

Iceland’s commercial hunt of minke whales has ended for this year. The common minke whale is the...

Icelandic whalers breach international law and kill iconic, protected whale by mistake

Icelandic whalers out hunting fin whales for the first time in three years appear to...

Doubts remain after Icelandic Marine Institute claims slaughtered whale was a hybrid not a blue

Experts remain sceptical of initial test results issued by the Icelandic Marine Institute, which indicate...

Japan set to resume commercial whaling

Reports from Japan suggest that the government they will formally propose plans to resume commercial...

End the whale hunts! Icelandic fin whaler isolated as public mood shifts

Here’s a sight I hoped never again to witness. A boat being scrubbed and repainted...

Australian Government to block Japanese whaling proposal

Japanese Government officials have reportedly confirmed that they will propose the resumption of commercial whaling...

Pregnant whales once again a target for Japanese whalers

Figures from Japan's whaling expedition to Antarctica during the 2017/18 austral summer have revealed that...

Did Icelandic whalers really kill a blue whale?

*Warning - this blog contains an image that you may find upsetting* They say a...

SOS alert for whales off Norway!

I have to admit to bitter disappointment when I arrived in Tromsø, northern Norway, a...

Norway's whaling season begins

April 1st saw the start of the whaling season in Norway. Despite a widely-accepted international moratorium...

Norway increases whaling quota despite declining demand

Norway's government has announced an increase in the number of minke whales that can be...

Visiting Iceland? How to ensure whales are saved and not served up


Tourism to Iceland is definitely booming!  A recent article in Al Jazeera which has been widely picked up by other media, both within and outside Iceland, boasts the headline: ‘tourism boosts Iceland’s whaling industry’. The article goes on to say that last year, Iceland welcomed a record 1.8 million visitors,  an increase of 40% on 2015.  In addition to citizens from the UK, Germany and the US, China is one of the fastest growing regions and currently ranks 6th in terms of visitor numbers to Iceland.

 Some WDC supporters are initially surprised that we positively encourage people to visit Iceland, given its ongoing hunting of both fin and minke whales, in defiance of the global ban on commercial whaling.  However, our response has always been that we want as many people as possible to support Iceland’s whale watch community, which has always been both brave and vocal in its opposition to whaling, as well as providing a massive boost to the Icelandic economy.  

WDC believes that whales are special and have the right to live wild and free. We further believe that if tourists are encouraged to boycott Iceland, then the whale watch companies would have to shut up shop,  giving the whalers a free rein to hunt whales with impunity and even to claim that they, alone, are deriving ‘economic benefit’ from whales.

And of course more tourists means more potential whale watch passengers: currently, one in five visitors to Iceland takes a whale watch trip, equating to around 360,000 passengers – more than the entire population of Iceland (currently around 333,400).  Experiencing whales in the wild is one of life’s great pleasures, but in addition to encouraging more people to take a whale watch trip, we also issue a strong alert against any temptation to sample whale products during your visit.

Never has this two-pronged approach (“please support whale watching in Iceland, but please don’t be tempted to sample whale products in any form”) been more important to highlight than now, as the whalers seek to capitalize upon increased visitor numbers by citing this as a justification for increased whaling.

Iceland currently has just two whaling companies, the minke whaling company, IP-Utgerd Ltd (previously trading as two companies, Hrefnuveidimenn Ltd. and Hrafnreydur Ltd., both of which have frequently teetered on the edge of bankruptcy) and the fin whaling company, Hvalur hf.  

Almost all the whale meat consumed in Iceland is minke whale meat and most of that is consumed by tourists, often under the mistaken impression that they are merely ‘eating like Icelanders’. However, regular readers of our blogs will already be aware that whale meat is neither a traditional nor a popular food as far as Icelanders are concerned. Indeed, a 2016 Gallup poll confirmed that over 80% of Icelanders surveyed said that they had not purchased any whale meat during the previous year and only 1.5% said that they had purchased it at least six times in the past 12 months.

The good news is that surveys commissioned by the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) show that tourist consumption of whale meat is declining rapidly in percentage terms, from 40% of visitors sampling whale meat in 2009, down to 20% by 2012, 18% in 2015 and only 12% last year. 

However, self-evidently, growing tourist numbers mean that it is even more important to reach tourists with the message that demand from them is the main driver of Iceland’s whaling industry.

And, whilst the vast majority of the meat and products from endangered fin whales is shipped to Japan, so-called ‘whale beer’ brewed with smoked fin whale testicles (and thus surely a contender for the title of ‘most crass and gimmicky product ever’) has been wheeled out for the past few years to coincide with the midwinter festival, Thorri. 

Shops and restaurants are certainly working full-pelt  to promote whale meat as ‘healthy and organic’ (although myriad issues around food hygiene, contamination and marine pollution combine to cast doubt on this boast).  Equally unhelpful – and untrue – are the claims coming from Icelandic scientists that the hunts don’t endanger whale species (in fact we don’t know enough about the current size and status of  fin and minke whale populations in the region to be able to make such a confident pronouncement) and that Iceland’s ‘sustainable quotas’ are approved by the International Whaling Commission.

 What is WDC doing to educate tourists and reduce demand still further?

In addition to widely circulating our latest flyer with the aim of reaching tourists before they even arrive in Iceland, we are also working with other NGOs to lobby airlines serving Iceland not to promote whale meat via articles or advertisements in their in-flight magazines.  We’re also asking the airlines to warn passengers that it is illegal in most parts of the world to attempt to bring whale products back home with them, following a spate of seizures at airports in Europe and elsewhere. 

Our take-home message is simple: enjoy  Iceland’s amazing scenery and marine life, but please give a body swerve to whale served on a plate or in a glass!

Find out more about our work to end whaling in Iceland here