Arriving in Iceland: A beautiful country, wrestling with change

Jul 24, 2018 by afdadmin
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  • By Steve Kavokos, Iceland Explorer at large @stevechristopher__

I have finally made it to Iceland. It’s everything I hoped it would be and more. When my plane dropped below the clouds to reveal Iceland’s famous volcanos, my emotions got the better of me. Getting here has been no easy task. From geographical challenges, time and money constraints, and personal circumstances I found I was finally resting my eyes on a promise I had made myself over a year ago: to see and write about orcas in the wild.

That’s why the moment I descended toward Iceland’s Keflavik airport, my heart and body were twisted in a tight knot. The past year was flashing before my eyes and I became excited to know my solo journey was in the hands of Iceland’s sweeping landscape and people. While I am very keen to see a place I have waited to see since I was a child, home to an animal I have dreamt about for years, uneasiness lingers in the back of my mind.

As much as I have fallen in love with Iceland’s breathtaking exterior, the country is hiding something disturbing. Just recently, on the 7th of July, a whale was slaughtered here.

To my horror I found out it was not just any whale but a Blue Whale – a rare, endangered species, fundamental to our ecosystem. The whaling company, Hbalur hf, could face an ugly penalty pending DNA results of the slain whale, as articles 3 and 10 of the ‘Icelandic Whaling Act’ prevent the hunting of Blue Whales. But what is more concerning is Icelandic whalers have slaughtered over 35,000 whales since the late nineteenth century.

A rare Blue Whale

Fin whales are endangered, yet hunted all the same. Iceland still allows a ‘quota’ for killing these beautiful animals, who face a real threat of extinction. In bizarre contrast with its long-standing whaling program, the majority of Iceland’s foreign tourism depends on ‘whale watching’, and Iceland’s landscape appeal.

What makes matters more confusing is eating whale meat isn’t a tradition to Icelandic people. Whale meat is predominantly eaten by tourists. It’s estimated that over 350,000 people come to Iceland to go whale watching, yet the government hasn’t changed its laws surrounding the slaughter of the whales people want to see. A survey taken this year showed the country was torn right down the middle when taking a vote to stop or continue whaling.

Whale sculpture in Iceland.

My first day in this country has left me speechless. There is a reliance on the marine landscape and its inhabitants for tourism, yet it seems there is a rather obvious disconnect. A country divided over this serious issue is concerning, and I look forward to having conversations with locals and marine biologists over the coming weeks about the complicated relationship Iceland has with whales and the ocean.