Iceland is one of only three countries in the entire world that continues the archaic practice of commercial whale hunting. The government of this 320,000 person island nation defies a global law against whaling implemented by the International Whaling Commision (IWC) in 1986 and sets their own killing quotas each hunting season. The politicians, scientists, and businessmen influencing this decision believe that these migratory mammals are their resources to exploit, and will continue to slaughter them for minuscule profits, despite mankind's awful history of sustaining our whale populations. Let's shine a spotlight on this issue and bring awareness to Iceland's blatant disregard for international law, and more importantly, their negligence to the biodiversity of our planet's oceans.
The two species of cetaceans that they hunt, the minke whale and the ENDANGERED fin whale, are sold to two completely separate markets. The smaller of the two, the minke, is sold domestically to the flocks of tourists who visit Iceland each year, while the endangered fin whale is strictly exported to Japan. My film focuses on the spectacular ironies, contradictions and unethical decisions surrounding the attempts made by the whaling industry and the Icelandic government to convince people there is still a market for this meat.
Around 800,000 tourists will visit Iceland in 2013. In the latest poll, 20% said they have tried or will try whale meat. These travelers, desperate for a sense of adventure, eat minke whale meat thinking that they are engaging in a cultural tradition. In reality, less than 5% of Icelandic citizens actually consume this majestic marine mammal on a regular basis, and tourists visiting the country, are the ones keeping the minke whaling industry afloat. The minke whalers I spoke with while visiting Iceland are aware of this fact and gear all marketing campaigns towards the misled traveler. They place manipulative ads in english speaking newspapers and post large menus with similar messages in the streets of the capital city, suggesting that the true Icelandic experience isn't achieved until whale meat is tested.
Ironically enough, whale watching has exploded on the island and this year alone, a projected 200,000 individuals will embrace the natural beauty of these animals in Iceland's remarkable subarctic setting. The number of visitors that participate in whale watching has grown steadily since 1995, and the numbers have tripled in the last ten years. In 2002, there were 62,000 visitors while last year there were 175,000 in which the revenues of the whale watch companies amounted to 1.1 billion dollars. Icelanders consist of less than 9% of this years 200,000 attendees, providing clear evidence that these private whale watching companies thrive on tourists and the well-being of the nation's whale populations. In terms of national economic benefit, the whale watching industry stands as an exponentially-growing giant, while the whaling industry represents a floundering minnow. With whale sightings dropping from 98% to 96%, it's time for the government to recognize the severity of killing the whales people are paying to see and acknowledge that the two industries cannot co-exist.
The second of the two species these Icelandic whalers are hunting, the fin whale, is officially listed on the IUCN red endangered species list and is exclusively sold to private companies in Japan. This impressive cetacean is the second largest animal on the planet (Up to 89.5 ft. long) and can live up to 140 years old. This past summer, Iceland set a quota to kill 184 of these massive fin whales, each weighing up to 74 tons, despite the known fact that meat from the 2009/2010 hunting seasons still remain in Icelandic freezer facilities.
Out of pure desperation to rid the meat of these freezers, Hvalur HF, the sole fin whaling company in Iceland, began selling their product to Japanese pet food company, Michinoku Farms. Outrageously enough, this sale resulted in the development of a new luxury dog treat: endangered fin whale jerky. Global outcry forced Michinoku Farms to pull the heinous product from the shelves, but not before providing insight into just how determined Hvalur HF is to keep the industry alive.
The question must be asked, "Why kill what you can't sell?" Hvalur HF CEO and influential business man, Kristjan Loftsson, is the only man who can answer this question.
The fishing industry is Iceland's second largest export after tourism, and Mr. Loftsson's position as the chairman of the biggest fishery in Iceland, HB Grandi, grants him undeniable influence on government decisions. Undeterred by international law, the endangered status of the species he's hunting, and the plea from countries around the world for him to stop whaling, Loftsson refers to fin whales as "just another fish in the sea." The man even has the audacity to label his company as "green" by running his vessels on oil from the endangered fin whales he kills.
The bottom line is that whales are facing more problems than ever before. Perpetual increase in global population is having detrimental effects on marine ecology. Pollution, depletion of food sources, loss of habitat, ship strikes, climate change, toxic waste, fishing net entanglement, and noise pollution are just a few, so how can Iceland justify tacking on one more threat to this list?
Risks and challenges
I've thought about the night I purchased my one way ticket to Iceland quite a few times since I've arrived home from shooting this documentary. It's amusing to reminesce about the butterflies I had and the uncertainties I faced while staring at the computer screen in the middle of the night. I couldn't sleep because my uncle had told me about this Icelandic whaling issue, and my mind continually wandered and searched for reasons of why this was the first time I'd heard of humans killing endangered whales. With a background in journalism, a career in documentary television, and a collection of camera/audio gear I decided that I was a capable candidate to spread the word. All I needed to do was push the purchase button...and of course, quit my job, empty my bank account, give up the lease on my apartment, and ask my girlfriend to just kind of, understand.
When I booked the ticket I didn't know where I would stay, how long I would be there, who I would meet, what kind of coverage I would get, or how people in Iceland would respond to a foreigner condemning their country's government. These were the primary reasons I decided against creating a kickstarter campaign before leaving, and I'm happy I did so. Now that I have completed shooting the film, I can assure you that your money will be put to good use in the post-production stage. The content I gathered over the three months I stayed in Iceland is invaluable to me, and I'm confident that it can be invaluable to impacting the future of whaling with just a little bit if financial assistance.
I put myself in uncomfortable and sometimes dangerous situations while covering this story. I went on a minke-whale hunt, interviewed whalers in their own home, followed truck drivers transporting whale meat to isolated locations in the middle of the night, was chased out of the Hvalur whale processing plant by rampant whale flensers, etc. With your help I can hire a talented editor, employ accurate translators, pay for widespread distribution, and produce original score to ensure the film is made to it's full potential.
The pieces have been gathered, and now we just need to put them in place. The better the movie is, the more people will watch. The more people who watch, the more people will know. The more people who know, the more whales will be saved.
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