I spent three days last week in Iceland with the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) where their boat, The Song of the Whale, is currently stationed. IFAW is well-known for its work on animal welfare, particularly with elephants and whales. I blogged about their elephant work here previously.
IFAW funds non-intrusive whale research, disproving the myth (lie) that you need to kill whales to carry out research on them, and more about their mission in Iceland can be found on their website.
In Iceland tourism is booming. With a population of only 320,000, over 700,000 tourists visited Iceland last year. Amongst the many tourist attractions, including dramatic scenery and significant volcanic activity, whale watching is the third most popular in the country.
It is clear that the trend is set to continue, as long as there are plenty of whales for people to see.
Over recent weeks the Song of the Whale has been studying the behaviour of the minke whales in Faxafloi, the large bay around Reykjavik, and how their behaviour might be impacted by whale watching.
IFAW supports responsible whale watching as a humane alternative to the cruelty of whaling and recognises the benefits that it can bring which will ultimately aid conservation of whales and help bring an end to the cruelty associated with whaling.
However, if there are behavioural differences as a result of whale watching a further study will be necessary to assess the biological implications and how we might reduce any detrimental impacts.
Along with Labour MP Tom Harris and Conservative MP Tracey Crouch, I spent a day out on the boat assisting the crew in their research, and seeing at first hand, the important work that they do.
The boat itself was eerily quiet. While out at sea, you could hear the engines of other whale watching vessels thousands of yards away, but hardly a sound from the engine 10 feet below.
As well as taking part in the research we also had a number of meetings with representatives of the whale watching businesses, the largest conservation NGO in Iceland, the British Ambassador and we also each met with an MP from our equivalent party in Iceland, which for me is the Progressive Party.
While in the UK all the main parties oppose whaling, the opposite is the case in Iceland. But their support for whaling has little logic. Only a tiny number of people work in whaling, and they already also work in the fishing industry.
Tomorrow I will blog further about the trip