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Icelanders stand up for whales by celebrating Whale Day

Date

20 Jun 2019

Sections

Health & Consumers
Climate & Environment
Reykjavik, 20 June 2019 – Thousands of Icelanders and tourists are expected to celebrate the largest mammals on earth during Whale Day this Saturday, June 22, with multiple events and activities such as whale watching tours taking place across the country, as the protection of whales from commercial whaling is something increasing numbers of Icelanders support.
 
The celebrations coincide with a critical success as Hvalur hf, the only company involved in Icelandic fin whaling, announced it would not hunt fin whales this year. This decision, critical to protection of these whales and the marine ecosystem was previously taken in 2011, 2012, 2016 and 2017.
 
The decision by Hvalur not to go fin whaling this season, a sharp decline in the killing of minke whales, and dwindling demand for whale meat are good news for whales, Icelanders and Iceland,” said Patrick Ramage, IFAW Director of Marine Conservation. “This gorgeous country is now a world class destination for whale watching – a rapidly growing form of ecotourism through which living whales deliver significant economic benefits to coastal communities worldwide. Iceland is leading the way.” 
 
It is the second consecutive year of celebrating Whale Day, following the great success from last year, and it follows the opening today of a new fin whale room at the Whales of Iceland (WOI) museum in Reykjavik, a collaboration with the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW). The exhibition gives access to an immersive and interactive room that highlights the numerous direct threats that whales face around the world.
 
Opened in 2014, WOI is a unique exhibition presenting life-size models of whales that can be found within Icelandic waters. It has played a critical role in changing the mind-set in Iceland, seeing whales as individual beings that positively contribute to oceanic ecosystems and not just as a source of financial income. The newly inaugurated room highlights the threats and challenges faced by these magnificent animals, along with the solutions required to ensure their survival as some whale species are being pushed to the brink of extinction.
 
IFAW is promoting the protection of whales globally and has been active in Iceland since 2003 . As part of its effort to fight commercial whaling, IFAW launched a new season of its “Meet Us, Don’t Eat Us” campaign which raises awareness among tourists on the urgently needed protection of whales as well as the value of sustainable whale watching as a viable alternative to the negative impact of commercial whale hunt and touristic whale meat consumption.
 
“It’s been amazing to witness on the ground the positive results of the Meet Us Don´t Eat Us campaign over the years and the impact it has had on awareness and behaviour, not only when it comes to tourists but Icelanders as well,” said Sigursteinn Masson, IFAW's representative in Iceland.
 
Recurring surveys show that local support for fin whaling has steadily reduced since 2003 – the year Iceland resumed commercial whaling – with now only one third of the population in support of the activity, compared to an estimated 70 percent 16 years ago. Crucially, there is also an increasing number of people that publicly oppose commercial whaling*.
 
Despite all efforts,  commercial whaling continues and  approximately 1,300 fin and minke whales have been killed since 2003. Whale hunting is not a cultural tradition in Iceland as it only really started in the late 1940s. It is mostly carried out to satisfy non-domestic demands, as minke whale meat is offered to tourists in Icelandic restaurants, while fin whale meat is exported to Japan. Only two percent of Icelanders regularly eat whale meat while 84 percent say they never do.
 
ENDS
 
For more information, images and footage, or to arrange interviews, please contact:
 
Benjamin Wiacek at IFAW on mobile at +32 472 17 15 81 or email at bwiacek@ifaw.org 
Sigursteinn Masson at IFAW on mobile +354 863 8361
 
Notes to editors:
 
Whale Day will begin with the unveiling of a whale information board in Reykjavik, the third of its kind to be installed at the city’s coastline. This board is being installed at the sea near Hofdi house, where the Gorbatchev/Reagan summit took place in 1986 marking the end to the Cold War. That same morning the first whale sign will be inaugurated in Húsavík harbor in Northern Iceland.
 
The Whale Day activities will start at 10:00am in Whales of Iceland museum in Reykjavik and in the Whale Museum in Húsavík. In Eyjafjordur (Northern Iceland), the day will start at the whale watching ticket booths at each whale watching location - Akureyri, Hjalteyri, Hauganes and Dalvik. 
 
*This survey was carried out by Gallup between October 5 and 15, 2018, to survey Icelanders’ attitudes to whale hunting. It used a sample size of 1,408. The survey was carried out online across Iceland targeting only those aged 18 years and over randomly selected from Gallup’s Internet Panel. Total number of respondents was 789, with 619 not responding, giving a total response rate of 56.0%. Full results are available on request.
 
About IFAW
 
The International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) is a global non-profit helping animals and people thrive together. We are experts and everyday people, working across seas, oceans, and in more than 40 countries around the world. We rescue, rehabilitate, and release animals, and we restore and protect their natural habitats. The problems we’re up against are urgent and complicated. To solve them, we match fresh thinking with bold action. We partner with local communities, governments, non-governmental organisations, and businesses. Together, we pioneer new and innovative ways to help all species flourish. See how at ifaw.org.
 
About the campaign
 
The Meet Us Don’t Eat Us campaign is a joint project between IFAW and IceWhale, the Icelandic Whale Watching Association that was launched in the summer of 2011. So far, over 500 volunteers from 30 countries have participated in the project, which runs mainly through the summer months in Reykjavik, via tourist to tourist street campaigning and petitioning visitors walking throughout the Old Town area.
 
The initiative is listed as an Airbnb experience to make this campaign activity and whale conservation education accessible and fun for all, whilst continuing to bear positive results. IFAW has successfully challenged touristic practices, approximately reducing the percentage of people who try whale meat when visiting Iceland by three-quarters in the last 10 years, which now only stands at 11.4 percent.
 
To support IFAW’s efforts to protect whales in Iceland, find out more about Meet Us Don’t Eat Us, or to sign our whales petition, visit www.ifaw.is.  
 

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