10 Years Ago in Reykjavík

I had just landed in Iceland. Because I was eight hours ahead of Pacific Time (Los Angeles), I decided to hang out at Reykjavík Harbor for several hours and go to bed around midnight Iceland time. I was met by two cute Japanese girls who were collecting funds for the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW), specifically to save the whales. At that time (2013), Iceland was one of two countries which hunted whales for food. The other was Japan.

In the U.S., only Native Americans are allowed to hunt whales, and the average number of kills is 300-500 Belugas and 40-70 Bowhead a year.

I was happy to contribute to the protection of the whales. And while I was in Iceland, I did not eat any whale meat, though I saw it in several markets.

Fortunately, I was able to keep my eyes open until 8 AM Los Angeles time and did not suffer from jet lag in the subsequent days. Flying back to California was, alas, a different story.

Iceland 2001: Watch a Whale, Eat a Whale

The Port of Husavík in Northern Iceland

The Port of Husavík in Northern Iceland

There is a controversy still going on in Iceland between fisherman who catch whales for domestic consumption and those who run whale-watching cruises for foreign tourists who are dead set against hunting whales.

Although, in general, I am against hunting whales, I think that a small island that has depended on whale meat for over a thousand years deserves a break. Many of the old Icelandic sagas, such as Grettir’s Saga, feature family feuds that began when one family group cut up a beached whale for itself while another claimed the rights to it.

The whales that Icelanders hunt are Northern or Common Minke Whales (Balaenoptera acutorostrata), which are small and relatively common—by no means the endangered species that American, Russian, and Japanese vessels in the Pacific hunted to the point of no return.

During my 2001 to Iceland, I took a whale-watching cruise out of Husavík, along Iceland’s north coast. We only saw a couple of Minke Whales (I guess it was a bad day), but we had a good time. And the galley prepared delicious hot chocolate and sweet rolls for all the passengers.

There is also a decent-sized whaling museum in Husavík that I visited and enjoyed twelve years ago.

If you want me to translate the sign in the above picture, I believe it goes, “If you can read this, you’re too darn close.”