Iceland is back on the radar of tourists. Whale hunting is also back in Iceland

Hvalur, Iceland's last whaling company, has been on hiatus for four years.

Oliver Thansan
Oliver Thansan
01 July 2022 Friday 15:16
13 Reads
Iceland is back on the radar of tourists. Whale hunting is also back in Iceland

Hvalur, Iceland's last whaling company, has been on hiatus for four years. Officials are not happy about this decision.

The Covid-19 epidemic had a severe impact on Iceland's tourism sector. Officials don't want to see any backlash against whaling.

Johannes Thor Skulason is the Icelandic Tourist Board's executive director. He stated that "it is well-known and widely reported that the tourist industry believes that whaling harms Iceland's reputation as a destination for tourists" You only need to look at the foreign media coverage of whaling.

Johannes continued, "It is often reported by larger publications with heated coverage." Johannes continued, "Whaling has a very specific effect on the tourism industry. This is evident in both private and public polls, as well as in letters and phone calls. Tourism companies feel this the moment whaling comes back into the conversation."

Representatives of companies have voiced their disgust at the planned whale hunt. Asberg Jonsson (CEO of Travel Connect), a large Icelandic travel services company, stated that "the tourism industry and most Icelandic residents are against whaling."

It is both saddening, and frustrating, to learn that Hvalur intends to kill these animals again in Iceland. This is very harmful to the country's image. This has negative repercussions on our tourism and export industries.

The stakes are high because Icelandic tourism was halted during the Covid-19 pandemic. Sigridur Dogg Gudmundsdottir (head of Visit Iceland) stated, "We are an Island, so obviously, the barrier to traveling here is a bit higher than people visiting neighboring countries."

Tourism is dependent

Although Covid-19 caused havoc in countries around the world, there are many other countries that are not as dependent on tourism than Iceland. Tourism was the country’s biggest export prior to the pandemic.

According to the Iceland Chamber of Commerce data, the sector's growth peaked in 2017, when tourism exports accounted 42% of total country exports.

The pandemic caused a drop in GDP growth. From 2019, activities related to travel bookings and air transport, accommodation, and restaurants declined by 50-75%. The result was a 3.9% decrease in tourism sector GDP in 2020.

Hvalur sent its last vessels to hunt in summer 2018, when a total number of 146 whales was caught. The whaling season can start in June and run until September depending on the weather. Around 150 people work at the whaling stations in west Iceland and the company's processing plants outside of Reykjavik.

Some people argue that whaling should be resumed as part of Icelandic culture.

"Whaling has an extensive tradition in Iceland. I believe reasonable and controlled hunting should also be permitted," said a casual worker at the whaling station. He did not want his identity to protect his job. "It has been around 125-150 fins whales hunted every year since Iceland began hunting whales in 2006, and it is still very low." In 2006, only eight whales were killed.

Negative emails

Many are puzzled that Hvalur, run by Kristjan Loftsson as CEO, continues to hunt whales despite environmental concerns and poor financials.

Asberg, Travel Connect's Asberg, stated that it is hard to understand why whale hunting is a dangerous practice and not financially sustainable.

Hvalur's Loftsson declined comment.

According to a report by Iceland's Ministry of Industries and Innovation, Iceland's whaling activities account roughly for 3% of all whales worldwide. The total revenue from whale-watching companies in 2017 was 3.2 billion Icelandic Krona ($26.5 Million). Hvalur's whaling revenue in 2017 was 1.7 billion Krona ($14.1 Million).

Whale watching tours are more lucrative because they're a very popular tourist activity all year.

Many are tired of the negative impact of one company. This is especially true since tourism companies expect this summer to return back to a pre-Covid number of tourists. A controversial issue such as whale hunting is also disappointing.

Asberg stated, "Overall, our travel brands don't experience a lot of cancellations due to this, but every so often, we get negative emails about this subject." As a company, we always state that we don't support whale hunting. These incredible creatures should be seen in their natural habitat.

A last hurrah?

Hvalur could end up being Hvalur's last season. The current license to hunt whales expires in 2023. Iceland's Minister for Fisheries and Agriculture will then decide if it is appropriate to cease issuing whaling licences starting in 2024. The industry is not a big contributor to Iceland's economy and there seems to be little demand for whaling products.

Sigridur stated that any whaling activity in Icelandic waters must be scientifically based and conform to international law. Hvalur is able to engage in whaling activities this summer because they have the necessary license. The management and owners will decide if they will use the license. It will also be up to the Icelandic government and people to decide if future licenses will not be granted. Only one Minke whale was caught in the last three years and no large whales were captured.

Tourism executives are optimistic about a great summer.

Sigridur stated that tourism in Iceland is recovering well. "We project near-to-normal numbers in this summer, and a full return next year," said Sigridur.