Airlines servicing Iceland urged to stop promotion of whale products

Animal protection and conservation groups in Europe are calling on European airlines that offer flights to Iceland, a popular whale-watching destination, to urge passengers to stop buying whale products while travelling in the country.

The move comes as Iceland’s peak tourism season begins and coincides with the imminent start of the country’s annual minke whale hunt, during which up to 264 minke whales could be slaughtered, with much of the meat sold to tourists.

The conservation groups are offering to meet with executives from airlines including Easyjet, British Airways, Lufthansa and Norwegian Airlines to request that they don’t even consider promoting whale meat or venues serving whale meat to their passengers and offer suggestions as to how airlines can support whale conservation.

“Most whale meat is consumed by tourists – ironically many of them travelling from whale-friendly countries - so it’s crucial that airline ads and magazine articles don’t create the false impression that it’s a popular or traditional food as very few Icelanders eat whale meat. Encouraging passenger curiosity about sampling these products makes the airlines complicit with the whaling industry,” said Vanessa Williams-Grey, policy manager at WDC, Whale and Dolphin Conservation.

Sandra Altherr, co-founder of Pro Wildlife, added: “Whaling in Iceland is directly sustained by those tourists eating whale meat. But airlines should recognize that, nevertheless, the vast majority of their clients are against whaling”.

As part of a concerted effort, US-based animal protection and conservation organizations have initiated a similar campaign, targeting US and Canadian carriers.  All these organizations are encouraging people travelling to Iceland to support Iceland's whale-watch industry, eat only at restaurants which do not serve whale meat and not to purchase any whale products to bring home.

“We need the airlines’ help to encourage their passengers not to eat whale meat. People might be tempted, but such temptation comes with a price tag and that price is simply too high. Iceland is such an amazing place to encounter whales in the wild and we hope that airlines which bring tourists to Iceland will want to join us in promoting whale-friendly businesses in Iceland,” said Jennifer Lonsdale, Environmental Investigation Agency, Senior Oceans Campaigner.

Iceland’s whale-watching industry has grown substantially since its inception in 1991, when 100 people took part in a whale-watch tour. Hundreds of thousands of the more than two million tourists visiting Iceland’s each year enjoy at-sea encounters with humpback, fin and minke whales and other species.

Yet, back on shore, tourists are significant consumers of whale meat. Many of the 46 minke whales killed last year ended up in restaurants, as well as grocery stores, falsely marketed to tourists as ‘traditional’ local dishes. Carved whale bone, baleen, and teeth are also sold as tourist souvenirs, even though the vast majority of countries prohibit the import of whale products (the only current exceptions being Japan, Iceland, Norway, the Faroe Islands, Palau and St Vincent).

“Even though it is illegal to bring whale products into the European Union and most of the rest of the world, tourists still do it,” said Fabienne McLellan, deputy director international relations from OceanCare. “We would be delighted to see airlines getting involved in raising awareness amongst their passengers about the wonderful opportunities to watch whales in the wild, but also communicate a clear warning to passengers visiting Iceland about the illegality of transporting whale products outside the country and the health implications of eating them. It’s all about providing encouragement to act responsibly.”

Icelandic whalers continue to defy a global ban on commercial whaling imposed by the International Whaling Commission in 1986. Since resuming whaling in 2003, the Icelandic government has permitted hunters to kill more than 700 endangered fin whales (whose meat is mainly exported to Japan) and 630 minke whales.