There are a number of data points that we know about whale hunting in Iceland: it’s not profitable, it has zero impact on fish stocks, and it harms Iceland’s image abroad (although to what quantifiable degree is still up for debate). Much like climate change, it’s ultimately an environmental issue with a solid consensus behind it. Also like climate change, there are edge-case detractors.
That brings us to a new report from the Institute of Economic Studies, titled “The National Interest Effects of Whale Hunting.” As the report states, it was primarily researched and written by Dr. Oddgeir Á. Ottesen, who is only described as an “economist”. He also was an alternate MP for the Independence Party, which has always been decidedly pro-whaling, or at least tolerant of whale hunting.
Why an economist would delve into whale hunting is one question. The conclusions drawn from the report fly in the face of pretty much everything we know about whale hunting, raising a slew of other questions.
The report states that in compiling its data, the author spoke with marine researchers, environmentalists, whale hunters and whale watching tour operators. On this last point, Rannveig Grétarsdóttir, chair of the Icelandic Whale Watching Association, has gone on record saying that no member of the group was ever contacted for this research.
Oddgeir has been in the news making contentions about how much money whale watching and whale hunting brings in, concluding that whale hunting is actually profitable (albeit less so than whale watching). Which is strange, because in 2015, business newspaper Viðskiptablaðið went over the yearly financial records for Hvalur hf., Iceland’s sole fin whaling company. While the company reported a profit of 3 billion ISK, up about half a billion from the year previous, a closer look told a different story. Viðskiptablaðið found that when operational costs—such as maintaining ships, running the whaling centre in Hvalfjörður and export costs—were subtracted from the company’s revenue from whale meat, the difference amounted to a loss of 72.5 million ISK.
Oddgeir has also been diligent in telling reporters that whales eat tonnes of fish, and that if we hunted even more whales, there would be more fish. How this correlates exactly is a mystery. Fish stocks in Iceland are actually quite healthy, and, like most living things, fish reproduce.
Oddgeir points out that tourism numbers have been increasing, even while whale hunting is ongoing, ergo whale hunting does not negatively impact Iceland’s image. This is a rather facile contention—first, because we have yet to quantify actual losses in tourist revenue due to whaling, and second, it is entirely possible that tourism revenue would be higher if whaling in Iceland were to end.
In all, the report appears to be an attempt to put scientific basis behind the more common contentions of the pro-whaling sect. Given the revelations about the methodology and the data we already have available, a scientific justification for hunting whales still remains elusive at best.