Saturday, August 23, 2003

Iceland faces protests over new whaling
Financial Times August 23/24 2003

“Sales of fresh meat from the first Icelandic whales to be harpooned for 14 years were brisk in the supermarkets of Reykjavik this week, but outside the small island nation the decision to resume whaling has been greeted with less enthusiasm.

Foreign governments and environmental and animal welfare groups have protested ...”

The article points out that the US is reviewing Iceland’s resumption of whaling under the 1967 Pelly amendment, which permits trade sanctions against nations deemed to have violated International Whaling Commission rules - though it suggests that while Iceland has breached rules the chance of the US imposing sanctions against Iceland is remote.

I have received several e-mails from supporters of whaling protesting at my criticism of whaling on this blog. Possibly one is a regular reader of the blog - but for other emails presumably the individuals have searched on Google or similar for +Iceland +whaling +resumption and found my site. In all the tenor is that whales eat cod, and that in order to maintain cod stocks, whaling (implicitly at a level to deplete the whale stocks) must go ahead - though curiously one e-mail states that only 6% of the Minke Whale’s diet is cod. I am amused that Iceland and Icelanders are so thin-skinned about the issue that they are searching for obscure web-sites (ie this one) which make moderate criticism of whaling, and taking the time to write e-mails of protest. It seems to me that it must be difficult to defend the indefensible, though the e-mailers are having a good go.

Cod is crucial to the Icelandic economy, and cod stocks are fragile at the moment. Iceland’s desire for a resumption in whaling is primarily in the hope of boosting the cod stock.

It seems to me that either Minke and other whales are NOT responsible for the depletion of cod stocks (in which case they should not on this logic be hunted) or they ARE responsible, in which case the logical consequence would be to hunt them until their levels are significantly depleted. And this is what world opinion would find unacceptable. Iceland is prepared to defy world opinion and international rules in its present decision to hunt whales, and the majority of Icelanders seem to find this acceptable, even a source of national pride. There is a parallel with the Cod Wars, when Iceland broke international laws in order to prevent non-Icelanders fishing what were then international waters. Iceland “won” the Cod Wars (or wasn’t brought to book for breaking international laws) and is clearly flexing its muscles on this issue.

One emailer points out that Norway resumed whaling without a noticeable blip in its tourism industry. British newspapers have been full of coupons for individuals to protest to Iceland, though there was nothing comparable when Norway resumed whaling. I'm told that the same holds for US papers. I don't know why there should be such a change in British and US opinion, but it seems to have happened. There is talk of a boycot by Britain of tourist travel to Iceland (reported in the FT, as above), and calls for companies to think twice before doing business with Iceland. Again I don't recall this happening with Norway.

Thursday, August 21, 2003


More to follow ....

NorthLink ferry Lerwick - Aberdeen

The crossing was .... interesting.

First of all they had a loading problem because the ship was transporting a crane which filled up a good chunk of the car deck. Fitting the cars on was tight. I drew the short straw and had to reverse down a very narrow and steep ramp to access parking space. Not funny. Then in the middle of the night I was hauled out of bed to move the car, because they had got the loading wrong, and needed to get a car out at Kirkwall that they had parked behind mine. Then a delay on disemrarcation. The crosssing was a bit choppy at least on the Lerwick-Kirkwall leg. All in all NorthLink should have done better, while the weather served as a reminder that at 60 degrees north in August autumn is just around the corner.

Shetland birds

This year has been a catastrophe for sea-birds in Shetland. The sand eels - food for many birds - have scarcely appeared in Shetland waters (perhaps because of global warming?) Puffins have frequently not bothered to nest, while there is scarcely a report of a successful Arctic Tern nest. Fulmars, Guillimots and Kittewakes have all had problems, typically with chicks starving. The Gannets have done better than most, but are still reduced in numbers.

The Noss Island Gannetry was established only in 1911. Curious how and why birds suddenly decide a spot is good for breeding. This year a good way up a cliff is a section of fishing trawler net, whose location is something of a puzzle. The Shetlanders don’t think wave and wind could take it up so high, though the idea of gannets pulling it up seems equally implausible - it would surely take more than one, and would therefore imply co-operation.

Wednesday, August 20, 2003


The IFAW website has information about Iceland's resumption of whaling, and how to protest.

Iceland's stated reason for whaling - "scientific whaling" to find out what minke whales eat - is bunk. Rather the government of Iceland is responding to support for whaling from over 80% of the Icelandic population, who feel that the international community has no right to tell them what to do.

There are ethical issues in killing a large-brained mammal in a manner which causes suffering. By contrast we send cattle to an abatoir where slaughter should be humane. There are environmental issues in hunting an animal where numbers are depleted - even the Minke whale is well below its previous maximum numbers, while other whales are on the brink of extinction. There are issues of inappropriate behaviour within the world community - Iceland is an enormous beneficiary from the peace and stability of the world communmity, and should abide by the rules of that club.

Additionally Iceland is plain stupid if it thinks it can support whaling without a tourist backlash. Whaling will loose Iceland a lot of money. And it is being supported for no better reason than because weak coalition politicians are trying to buy a few votes by appeasing the pro-whaling majority of Icelanders.


To Esha Ness cliffs. Great cliffs, weird geology (there is a geo here) and lots of wind.

Artist's Studio. A guy from England who has bought a croft (for £10,000), is managing it, and running a studio - mainly commission painting. He seems to be doing okay. Crofts have to be managed, though rather than graze sheep he is as it happens paid by the EU to manage the land to promote heather (ie keep the sheep off). A strange lifestyle, but one which seems tp suit him.

Wildlife refuge. The resident here is a seal, brought in a few years ago after an accident witha boat. She has a paralysed rear flipper which means that she cannot be released back into the wild, and is now a rather sad permanent resident.

Now back in Lerwick and checked in for boarding the ferry at 4.30pm. By tomorrow morning I will have been in a boat for part of each of eight consecutive days.

am: St Ninian's Isle, Jarlshof, and back to Lerwick via Scalloway.
pm: 3hr boat trip to the Noss bird reserve. It was choppy in harbour, and the crew realised that one or two people were getting restive, so they sort to reassure passengers. The two-man crew could boast between them a century and a half of experience of the seas around Shetland - both were well in their 70s. The gannet collony on Noss made the trip worthwhile, and the seals were a bonus, but with three jumpers on I was still not warm (and most of the passengers were shivering). What's this about some warm weather in Britain?


Day on the Norrona for the Thorshavn-Lerwick leg. Views of Foula, the westernmost of the Shetlands, probably the highlight.


By boat to Nolsoy. This island has a single fishing village.

Afternoon Thorshavn museum (which has some remarkable mediaeval carved wood, much of it of a super quality. For example there is a thirteenth century Madonna and child made in England for a church in the Faroes, and comparable with the best mediaeval wood carving to survive in England). Also the Faroese National Art Gallery, which honestly was underwhelming.

Thorshavn has a plantation of trees, which demonstrates that the Faroes could support trees. The islands are virtually tree-less.

Miscellaneous facts about the Faroes

population 48,000 (it was 4,000-5,000 from the settlement until the mid nineteenth century).
part of the Kingdom of Denmark, but outside the EU, and with home rule.
Issue their own banknotes - on parity with the Danish crown.
Occupied by Britain during the 2WW, and seem to think well of Britain.
Economy is based on fish, and with a 200 mile territorial water they don't do badly.


Vestmanna bird cliffs. This is a small-boat trip, for which read cold, wet and choppy. These cliffs are every bit as remarkable as the guide books suggest. They rise to over 600m, which translates as they just go up and up. Sheep graze every ledge, and are regularly put to graze on stacks. This last practice was once prompted by poverty, but is now continued out of some sort of machissmo. Climbing a couple of hundred metres up a cliff without a rope in order to haul a few sheep up (typically 3 to 5 per stack) is not my idea of fun. Bird catching still goes on, but mainly for sport. Fulmars have been found to carry disease which can spread to humans and are not now eaten, while the gannets, guillimots and gulls are not really to modern taste. Puffin is however served in restaurants and apparently eaten in homes. The sheep are all colours: white, black, piebald, brown and anything inbetween - as the custom in the Faroes has been to use the wool in its natural colour without dying, so selective breeding has not created predominantly white sheep.

On from Vestmanna to Esturoy and the village of Eidy, and east from there on a road which has to be seen to be believed. The surface is fine - but the bends, gradients and precipitous drops are something else. I had thought Iceland had thrown everything at me in the way of roads, but this was something else.

The curator at the Gota folk museum was far more interesting than the museum. Of her 4 great-grandmothers, three were sisters. Her husband's four great-grandmothers include two sisters, and these two are the same as the three. And she knows of many other inter-relationships in her and her husband's family. Her daughter is about to get married - to someone from the next island.

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