After the recent tragedy of the “mistaken identity” that resulted in a blue-fin whale hybrid being slaughtered by Icelandic whalers the WCA has sent the following email to several Icelandic government officials.
Dear Mr. Gudlaugur Thór Thórdarson,
I write to you on the subject of whaling and whale-related tourism in Iceland. I represent the World Cetacean Alliance – the world’s largest marine conservation partnership and leading experts on whale watching tourism.
Whale watching has replaced whaling as the primary way in which people engage with whales in many parts of the world. In most cases, when whaling ends, and the whale population recovers, whale watching soon starts and develops in to a flourishing business. Tonga and the Azores are good examples of this. In other places there is a longer gap between the end of whaling and the start of whale watching, such as in the UK or South Africa. Finally there are places where whaling and whale watching overlap for a while, such as in Antarctica, parts of the Arctic, and currently in Japan, Norway and Iceland.
Iceland is often listed as one of the world’s top ten best places to go whale watching and rightly so. WCA partners living and working in Iceland have been an integral part of the development of our organisation internationally and are highly respected. Icelandic whale watching companies are world-leaders on sustainability, as proven by the number that are currently Blue Flag accredited.
Iceland also leads the way through its tremendous whale museums in Husavik and Rekyavik, as well as the newly proposed whale sanctuary for captive beluga whales – a potential world first!
In Europe, Iceland is arguably the number one whale watching destination. It has high quality tours, supporting visitor experiences, and the two most sought-after cetaceans on Earth – killer whales and blue whales.
Iceland also has whaling, and whaling, in our view, is holding Iceland back. Take the WCAs Whale Heritage Sites accreditation scheme as an example. Whale Heritage Sites are outstanding whale watching locations where local communities and whales are respectfully linked through sustainable practices, celebratory events, science, and education. These sites will be the new top whale watching destinations based on credible criteria and not just the pen of a biased journalist. There are already candidate Whale Heritage Sites in New Zealand, South Africa, Costa Rica, Australia, and Canada. Iceland should be competing with these sites but it cannot while whaling continues because it won’t meet the criteria. However, once whaling ends, Whale Heritage Sites focus heavily on the preservation of whaling heritage and culture, so this can be really beneficial both for local people with links to whaling and to visiting tourists with an interest in all aspects of whales.
Whale Heritage Sites also opens up another great opportunity for Icelandic tourism through the ‘celebratory events’ criterion. Iceland is in the strongest position in Europe to develop an annual whale festival. We are the only continent except Antarctica not to have one already and Iceland has all the ingredients to run a successful whale festival and target high spending tourists through the event. There are great existing models to follow for this.
We hope you share our view that Iceland has an exciting future as a leading marine ecotourism destination delivering authentic ecotourism experiences run by Icelandic people.
Many of us in the WCA come from nations that hunted whales in the past, and we have often successfully kept that part of our history alive. If we can help the Icelandic Government in any way to make this transition, we would be glad to offer our expertise across whaling and whale watching tourism, whale festivals, and more.
We appreciate you considering our request.
CEO, World Cetacean Alliance