From Iceland — Here comes Esperanza

Here comes Esperanza

Published July 9, 2004

Here comes Esperanza

Good and evil, Walt Disney style
Greenpeace are no strangers to specious science and emotive argument; the sort that lumps all whales into one category and all whalers the other. Good and evil as Walt Disney would tell it. Whales are not all the same; there are many different species. Some eat fish, some don’t, some are big, some are small, some live in the Northern hemisphere some the Southern, some are endangered some are not. For the avoidance of doubt the minke whale is not endangered. There has been worldwide ban on whale hunting of all species since 1989, however, scientific culling is permitted.

Iceland has one of the world’s last productive fishing grounds. Its territorial waters that stretch 200 miles around its coastline provide Europe and particularly the UK with its cod. What the environmentalists seem to overlook is that the Icelanders have managed their fisheries and seen them increase over the last decade, while others have presided over the virtual annihilation of their territorial fish-stocks.

It is just not realistic to assume that this scientific cull is the Icelandic way of finding a backdoor into commercial whaling. In years to come, if on the balance of scientific evidence they see their fishery is being affected by the presence of minke whales, then it is probable that they’ll wish a more extensive cull. But, so it is with elephant herds in Zimbabwe, where protection has been such a success that they are now destroying food stocks for other less voracious species.

They come here to eat
It is estimated, and estimates will vary up to 50 per cent plus or minus when it comes to counting whales, that there are in the order of 43,000 minke whales in Icelandic territorial waters. Minke whales are an odd mixture, for although they are filter-feeding, baleen, they will eat fish and squid, and, although they are migratory, they will also establish home ranges. So, they not only eat fish, but also, the food that fish eat. They dine off the entire length of the food chain if you like, and monitoring the food chain is an essential part of fishery management, and you can’t find out with certainty what a minke is eating without looking into its stomach. A cull of 38 minkes represents less than 0.01 per cent of the total Icelandic minke population. The cull falls into insignificance when measured against the global population of minke whales.
The Icelandic economy relies on its fish exports. Their fisheries cover an area of over 500,000 square miles and, as far as it is possible to manage an area of open sea that size, are meticulously monitored and managed. Whales come to Iceland to feed, some consuming over three-quarters of their annual food intake while they are here. Iceland has a legitimate right to run its fisheries as it thinks best, and if that involves the cull of minke whales, then so be it.

What about the tourists
Where Iceland has got it wrong is how they are going about it. Their second most important source of revenue is tourism. Not only does Iceland export most of its fish to the UK but it also imports the bulk of its tourists from here, too. The cull started at the beginning of the tourist season when whale watching is at its peak and as minke whales over-winter in territorial waters, there is no reason for the cull to coincide with the tourist migration.
Yes, there will be 27 less whales to watch in Iceland at the end of the summer but that is hardly the point. There will also be Icelandic cod well into the foreseeable future, there will be minke whales in abundance and, hopefully next year, Greenpeace will find a more worthwhile venue for its fundraising and promotional activities.

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