“This year our response has been so positive and receptive, it’s been almost boring.”
Why then does Frode Pleym, campaign director for Greenpeace in Iceland, say: “This year our response has been so positive and receptive, it’s been almost boring.”
I was taken on board the Esperanza, the Greenpeace ship sitting in Reykjavík harbour, by Irene Berg, the web editor for Greenpeace. I was introduced to Marcee Benson, one of Greenpeace’s “cyber-activists”.
Marcee’s approach to encouraging the end of whaling is more diplomatic than confrontational. She has collected the testimonies of over 57,000 people who said they would seriously consider vacationing in Iceland rather than somewhere else if Iceland halts whaling. Greenpeace intends to hand over the e-mails of all of these people to various tourist industries in Iceland when the whaling stops. According to their website, what this could mean for Iceland in terms of real money would be over $10 million dollars per year in tourist revenue, even if only 15% of these pledges actually visited Iceland – a percentage which most travel agencies confirm is a realistic expectation. As most Greenpeace members are consumate travellers by nature, this percentage would probably be much higher. Iceland’s annual commercial whaling, at its peak, brought in only $4 million.
In the galley of the Greenpeace ship, a cook happily chopped the legs off of a whole lamb
We went below deck, to the galley, where a cook happily chopped the legs off of a whole lamb, in preparation for the evening meal. Soon Frode Pleym joined us and when questioned about some of the accusations made against Greenpeace in the past, his response was, “Greenpeace has a long history. Any organisation which has been around as long as we have is bound to make mistakes and do stupid things. But two things need clarifying. Firstly, a documentary claiming that the clubbing of baby seals was a hoax by a Mr. Guðmundsson was rejected by the Oslo City Court as being unsubstantiated. Second, it was not Greenpeace that sunk a whaling ship but Sea Shepherd. That group was run by a former member of Greenpeace who was thrown out for having ideas which run counter to our agenda of peaceful action.”
Pleym discussed the “scientific purposes” given by the Icelandic government for whaling: “The main reason given has been to find out what whales eat. This can be done without killing them, first of all. Second, if they see the minke whales as a threat to the fish stocks, they would need to kill at least 25% of them before it would have any effect on the fish population, which most Icelanders agree is an unsustainable number of whales to kill. In addition, it doesn’t address the real threats to the fish stock, such as climate change and sea pollution – two things which both Iceland and Greenpeace are acting in cooperation with each other to end.”
Why are some Icelanders trying so hard to continue whaling?
If all this is true, why are some Icelanders trying so hard to continue whaling? “Apart from Kristján Loftsson, head of a whaling company Hvalur hf. having a lot of political power, there is also a conflict of interest,” says Pleym, “Hafró [Hafrannsóknarstofnun, a marine research group] also happens to be a part of the Ministry of Fisheries. Hardly an independent source of information on the whale’s effect on fish stocks.”
Greenpeace is doing a lot to live down their “angry protestor” image. Pleym says: “We don’t want our message to be, ‘You must stop whaling now!’ but rather, ‘It would be wise for you to stop’. To this end, the tourist industry in Iceland has actually been the strongest voice of protest against whaling. By the Ministry of Fisheries own figures, the average Icelander eats only about 0.05 kilos of whale meat each year. By contrast, whale watching in Húsavík is booming. Hundreds of people all over Iceland enjoy whale watching every day. We want to act more as a partner with Iceland, rather than an opponent.”
The Greenpeace office in Iceland will be open until mid-July. Those wishing to learn more can visit their website at www.greenpeace.org