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Last Updated:  Monday, 7 April, 2003, 15:51 GMT 16:51 UK
Iceland tourism chiefs warn whalers
By Alex Kirby
BBC News Online environment correspondent

Iceland's tourist industry says the country should not resume whaling unless it has international agreement.

Humpback flukes   Noaa
There is no evidence that whaling and whale-watching can co-exist
Asbjorn Bjorgvinsson, Husavik Whale Centre
The government has announced plans to kill 100 minkes, 100 fin whales, and 50 sei whales over two years.

It wants to catch them for research, which is allowed by the International Whaling Commission.

But the tourist industry says whale-watching earns more for Iceland than whaling itself could, and is internationally popular.

Looking for markets

Iceland has acknowledged that its scientific whaling programme would prove very expensive if the country could not sell the parts of the catch not needed for research.

Its Fisheries Minister, Arni Matthiesen, said: "The Icelandic market is very small, hence it is a precondition for any whaling around Iceland to be able to export whale products to the Japanese market."

The government has refused to be bound by international bans on trade in products from several species, including the very rare blue whale.

Humpback breaching   Noaa
A humpback shows its paces
But its plans have been rebuffed by the annual general meeting on 2 and 3 April of the Icelandic Tourist Industry Association (ITIA).

The association, whose members include the country's main airline, Icelandair, represents probably 80-90% of Iceland's turnover from tourism.

It said: "Whale-watching has become one of the most popular tourist activities in Iceland, providing considerable income for the economy, as well as creating a very positive image for Iceland."

The meeting repeated an ITIA statement in 1999, which issued a strong warning against any plans to resume whaling.

The 1999 statement said: "There is a general opposition [to whaling] among the public in Iceland's most important markets for the tourist industry.

Consent essential

"Governments of these countries do not recognize Iceland's rights to resume whaling without full acceptance by the Whaling Commission (IWC).

Gray whale blowhole   Noaa
Up close: A gray whale's blowhole
"To resume whaling in opposition to the agreements of the IWC would immediately be interpreted as an act of pirate whaling, and would cause great damage to the Icelandic tourist industry."

The statement ended with a warning of "dire consequences" if Iceland resumed whaling without international agreement.

Conservationists say whale-watching is far more lucrative for Iceland than any resumption of whaling could be.

They say the annual value of scientific whaling from 1985 to 1989, the last time the whalers put to sea, was estimated at about $3-4 million.

But a study says income from whale-watching and the benefits it generated in 2002 was more than $16m.

It says the number of whale-watchers, both Icelandic and foreign, rose from 2,200 in 1995 to 62,650 in 2002. The study predicts there could be more than 100,000 in 2007.

Ambitious plans

Asbjorn Bjorgvinsson runs the Husavik Whale Centre on Iceland's north coast, which offers whale-watching trips to visitors.

He says the potential for whale-watching is excellent, with blue whales, fins, humpbacks, sei and minke whales all coming close inshore.

Longer trips could take tourists to see the sperm whales which tend to stay in deeper water.

Humpback head above surface   Noaa
Whale watches whale-watchers
Mr Bjorgvinsson says any move to start hunting minkes again would be very harmful to tourism.

He said: "There is no evidence that whaling and whale-watching can co-exist.

"The friendly minkes would be the first to be killed as they often approach the whale-watching boats and so would also approach the whaling boats.

"Whaling could therefore damage many years of friendly encounters with minkes around Iceland."

Images courtesy of US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration




SEE ALSO:
Iceland bids to resume whaling
03 Apr 03  |  Science/Nature
Great whales a little safer
25 Sep 02  |  Science/Nature
Whales bring feel-good factor
10 Aug 02  |  From Our Own Correspondent


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