The hunting of whales for the ostensible purpose of scientific
research has been a cloak behind which the Japanese whaling industry has been hiding since outright commercial harvesting of whales was banned in 1986. The scientific-research loophole in the International Whaling Commission convention allows countries to take a limited number of whales each year, and provided the whales are first used for some sort of research purposes (usually to support the claim that whales eat too much fish and should be culled), the meat can be sold on the open market. Each year, the Japanese whaling fleet takes 700 whales in the Antarctic and North Pacific. Iceland would like to do the same, according to the Washington-based environmental lobby SeaWeb.
Iceland’s proposed harvest of whales — which could begin later this year with the annual harvest of 100 minke whales, 100 fin whales and 50 sei whales — stands in contrast to its booming tourism industry, built in no small part by its fleet of whale-watch vessels that whisk passengers to view some of the most spectacular whale populations in the world. The Iceland Tourist Industry Association suggests that such a hunt could be a form of economic suicide if whales are taken, especially without consent of the IWC, from which the country withdrew in 1992. A tourism boycott could damage the country’s $16 million whale-watch industry, the ITIA suggests, whereas the payoff (from whale meat exported to Japan for consumption) would be just $3 million to $4 million annually.
In an age in which participatory tourism is on the rise (witness Disney’s educational cruises, “dude schooners” on the Maine coast, and celebrities paying to be shot into space) perhaps Iceland will enact a compromise: the world’s first whale-hunt-watch cruise, in which passengers can relive the gory days of Ahab, Starbuck and Queequeg.