Whale: to eat or not to eat


Kristján Loftsson, the captain of the biggest Icelandic whale hunting company, says commercial whaling is a matter of independence.

That is, in my opinion, nationalistic crap.

My name is Hafdís Erla Hafsteinsdóttir, and I’m a 21-year-old history student at the University of Iceland. I’ll be covering for Ed while he’s on vacation, and in my first Daily Life, I’m going to tell you about a personal dilemma.

Due to the declining size of the minke whale and the fin whale stock, whaling was forbidden in Iceland in 1989. That was a tough decision at the time. Icelanders have hunted whales for ages, and whales have often saved the nation from starvation in times of crises like during the large volcanic eruption of 1783-4 (Skaftáreldar).

But in the 1970s and 80s, concepts like animal protection and taking responsibility for animals in danger of extinction reached Iceland’s shores, and the Icelandic government decided to respond to international pressure and ban commercial whaling.

In 2001 the government decided to start hunting a few minke whales for scientific purposes. It didn’t cause much debate. In the 21st century, anything that is done for the sake of science has a sacred air about it.

But this autumn, the government decided to start hunting whales commercially again – about 40 whales this year. And then the big bomb fell.

Foreign governments have sent official protests, some travel agencies refused to continue selling trips to Iceland and the American organic supermarket chain Whole Foods has stopped marketing Icelandic products.

So why did the Icelandic government decide to start hunting whales again? Why allowing a small whaling industry get its way if it harms other, much larger, industries like tourism and food export?

Kristján Loftsson, the captain of the whaling fleet, says commercial whale hunting is a matter of independence. Einar Kr. Gudfinnsson, Minister of Fisheries, claims whale hunting is an internal affair and not any other nation’s business.

They both forgot to mention that each whale is probably more valuable alive than dead. Every year, thousands of tourists go whale watching, and Iceland’s whale-watching fleet is just as big as the whale-hunting fleet.

Politically and intellectually this is a clear case for me. I don’t believe that whale hunting is a matter of independence for Iceland. We cannot govern this country pretending nothing outside our borders matters.

However, I’m caught up in a dilemma. I have a deep affection for whale meat. Fresh whale meat entered the market when “scientific hunting” began, at which point I began my love affair with whale meat.

Don’t get me wrong. I don’t eat whale seven times a week, but every time I want to let go of my microwave diet and treat myself, I go for a whale steak.

But after commercial whaling began, my addiction to whale meat has created social problems for me. The nation is pretty much divided in two: Should Icelanders hunt whales or not?

My political self says no, but my stomach says yes. My politically-correct thinking friends at the university are all against whaling, and so am I. I just cannot let go of my favorite meal. Therefore I keep quiet about my eating habits, and I don’t order whale meat in public restaurants. But at home, when no one is watching, I cook it.

But today I have decided to come out of the closet as a whale eater. And I’m proud of it. I don’t agree on massive whale hunting for export, but as long as they only hunt 10 to15 minkes per year to satisfy people like me, things are in order.

And by the way, I’m having whale for Christmas.


Views expressed here are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Iceland Review.