I was really sorry to see minke whale meat included in a recent list in the Icelandic press of ‘top delicacies that are favourites amongst locals’. The author starts by exorting readers to “forget about the fermented shark used to shock tourists” but after listing lamb, local bread and freshly-caught fish, ends with a dish that is clearly controversial and to my mind, should shock tourists every bit as much as fermented shark: minke whale meat.
What the piece neglects to mention is that minke whales are harpooned primarily to cater for demand from tourists, who order it under the misapprehension that it is a popular local dish. In fact, eating whale meat is neither popular nor traditional in Iceland, and the vast majority of Icelanders don’t touch it.
Many visitors to Iceland take a whale watch trip and minke whales are a popular draw, with profits contributing greatly to the Icelandic economy (tourism is currently the country’s number one revenue).
By contrast, whaling is a cruel, unprofitable and wasteful industry (much of the whale’s carcass is discarded). It is bitterly ironic then, that whaling vessels frequently operate close to whale watch areas, meaning that a whale enjoyed by watchers one morning, may be targeted that afternoon by whalers hellbent on putting whale steaks onto tourist plates that evening.
If you are planning a trip to Iceland in coming months, please don’t eat whale meat or be tempted to sample other gimmicky products such as pickled blubber or so-called ‘whale beer’ (made with whale products including smoked fin whale testicles). Please see our new flyer for more information.