Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Hypocrytical sinkhole

I am not particularly well informed about American politics. I do not live there and the Icelandic politics suffice to soothe my appetite for such issues. But I know enough to say that as someone that has no vested interest in US policies I do like the Obamas. I like the way he touches people‘s shoulders when shaking hands as it implies that he is a nice guy and his wife Michelle seems like a very good and strong person. But now I have a beef with him.

Maybe it would be good form to issue a brief warning. Not many readers will applaud this post. The topic has few pleasant sides. But in life one cannot constantly steer clear of uncomfortable issues. So here goes:

Recently the US State Department sponsored a global conference “Our Ocean” to discuss and raise awareness on issues related to the ocean and marine conservation. Iceland was asked by Obama to stay away as we were supposedly not welcome. This is a bit odd as Iceland is one of the few countries in the world that still maintains a healthy and thriving fishing industry due to the long serving regulating of fishing. Because of this, Iceland with its 320 thousand inhabitants is the 12th largest fishing nation in the world. We could have provided very valuable input regarding boosting fish stocks for coastal countries that continue to see the fish in their waters deplete. At the very least we could have presented a good case for the value of sustainable fishing. But no. We were a country non-grata. So what gives?


In 1986 the International Whaling Commission (IWC) that regulates whaling, placed a ban on commercial whaling due to threat of whale extinction. The IWC does however allow Japan, Norway and Iceland to continue whaling. Japan for research purposes (the ban reportedly urges that research meat be sold for consumption), Norway because they objected to the ban and Iceland because of a reservation we had passed by the IWC in 2002.

Iceland’s locally regulated annual quota amounts to 150 fin whales and 150 minke whales.

Neither of the whale species Iceland hunts are in danger of extinction. The population of the North Atlantic fin whale subspecies in the waters Iceland hunts has been estimated to number 19 000 animals. The quota of 150 animals per year is chosen to ensure that this number does not decrease due to the hunt. The global fin whale population is around 120 000 animals. The global minke whale population is around 800 000 animals.

Everyone that knows anything about whales knows that the IWC ban on commercial whaling is  no longer needed to protect whales from the threat of extinction. Sustainable whaling can now be conducted. The ban was never meant to be permanent. It was meant to compensate for past overhunting and allow the stocks to rise. Which they have.

Anyway. Despite the fact that Japan and Norway hunt more whales than Iceland, Japan and Norway were not sent the same letter from Obama that Iceland received. They were allowed to participate in the conference for some reason. Obama did not decide to take “the moral high ground” as he supposedly told our government that he felt obliged to do in regards to us. Norway and Japan received no threatening message about cutting off diplomatic relations or looming economic sanctions – as we did. Not very brave to pick on the smallest of the bunch or very consequent either. To me this moral high ground seems more akin to a hypocritical sinkhole.

Few people know that in addition to the three countries already mentioned, other countries also hunt whale, albeit in a somewhat lesser degree. Usually this is done under an aboriginal allowance and such hunting occurs for example in the USA. There aboriginal Alaskans are allowed to hunt 75 bow head whales a year. The bowhead population is estimated to be about 25 000 worldwide – less than a quarter of the fin whale population and about 3% of the minke whale population. The Obama administration does not worry about extinction off Alaska.

I do not get it. What is the difference and why is this somehow considered more acceptable? Iceland has hunted whale traditionally for centuries, so has Japan and Norway. Why does Obama allow the Alaskan hunt if whaling is such a hot topic for him? It occurs in his own back yard.  From a population of much fewer whales.

Did someone mention moral high ground?      

But opposition to whaling is not only due to people being worried about the animals becoming extinct. There is the notion that they are smart and they look magnificent. But does that make them any more holy than for example a chicken? If there is no extinction threat then one would think that whales should be on par with other animals that we eat. Can we kill chickens without blinking an eye because of their lack of intellect and rather homely appearance?  Can this then be applied to human life as well? Does someone who looks bad and is perhaps mentally challenged have less of a right to life? Will you get a reduced sentence for if you kill that person?

Don‘t get me wrong. I am not some hunting enthusiast, I don’t even fish. I am actually very much an animal lover although that might seem strange to some. To me it is not about the way an animal dies – it is about how it lives. I would rather eat a whale (that is not about to die out as a species) that actually had a life as opposed to a horrifically treated farm animal that had no life but possibly a decent death. I emphasise possibly.

Iceland does not have an army. We do not send our young out into the world with bombs and weapons to kill or be killed. We do not have the death sentence and administer poison into the veins of criminals in some mangled way – a few probably unduly convicted. We do not put children in jail. We are not one of the world’s biggest marine polluters. We do not have a food industry that turns people into vegetarians if they look into the practices. We hunt and fish responsibly. We do not point the finger at others regarding issues where we are no better. We do not threaten friendly nations.

Not that anyone would get all worried about a threat from our direction.  

 Yrsa - Wednesday


  1. The U.S. has a rather... delicate? relationship with the "Native American" cultures within our borders, because of what was done to those cultures over the centuries (near genocide). As a result, Alaskans 'Indians' are allowed to hunt whales, and other tribes are allowed to have gambling casinos on their lands, even if gambling establishments are outlawed in the rest of the state.

    As for Obama, yes, I think he and his wife are LOVELY people (as politicians go, some of the best I've seen). They were (and are) a breath of fresh air after the previous administration. However, I've become VERY disappointed in many of the Obama administration policies. In many ways, Obama has turned out to be more conservative than many earlier supposed 'conservative' presidents (Eisenhower would be considered a flaming liberal in today's political arena).

    All that said, I'd not heard of Iceland's exclusion before, and stand with you on this one. No nation should be excluded in that way.

    THAT said, I did some Googling and found some articles that implied some differences from your post, such as:
    which says that "Last year, Iceland hunted 134 fin whales an annual harvest that is nearly triple what is considered biologically sustainable in the North Atlantic, Obama said." And also that some of the fin whales were exported to Japan.

    Another article:
    claims "Iceland killed 35 minke whales and 134 endangered fin whales in 2013 alone -- most of which are exported to the Japanese market..."

    I don't know all of the data (or much of anything else according to my wife... shut up, Jeff). But I do know it's a sticky wicket for countries like Iceland, Norway, and Japan, whose cultures are intimately tied to the oceans and the fisheries. But it's also a sticky wicket for all of us, as the world's oceans (and the life therein) doesn't obey human laws and the borders of countries mean nothing beneath the waves. The oceans are shared by the entire planet and, as with anything else, everyone's going to be unhappy one way or another.

  2. Hi Everett,

    thanks for your input - just to expand a bit on the differences you found on the web I would like to apologise if I was not clear enough. The Icelandic whaling is a commercial enterprise and some of the whale meat is indeed sold to Japan. I don't see the difference really, i.e. who is eating the produce.

    Regarding Obama's statement to the effect that we are hunting triple the sustainable number I can assure you that this is incorrect. All scientific studies conducted by independent sources will verify that the hunting harvest is sustainable. The harvest even lies within the recommended percentage that the scientific committee of the IWC note as being sustainable. Obama is probably quoting Greenpeace or Sea Shepard.

    One thing though - thankfully the oceans are not totally shared as each country with a shoreline controls 200 miles out to sea. If this were not the case our waters would have been just as badly treated as in most countries with bottom trawling and over fishing. The world would then have less fish to eat. The 200 mile zone is something that Iceland introduced to the world and caused the cod war with the UK.

    But I do hope that the conference had an impact. Then maybe we can all be happy - or not :-)

  3. I completely agree with you Yrsa. I had this exact discussion a young man from the Faroe Islands. He was less polite than you !! But we agreed that it is their tradition and their economy. I cannot sit in my green and arable homeland and criticise the Faroese, the Alaskans! Or Icelanders. And many people do argue the 'intelligent' point re whales which is the same as don't eat dogs but eat pigs and don't eat horses but eat cows. In the Uk, the eating farmed rabbit debate is now going strong.... they are too fluffy to farm ...seemingly.

  4. "Do as I say not as I do," seems to have become a basic in the Obama Administration's foreign policy quiver. Make that quivering quiver.

  5. It's so good that Iceland does not make bombs, send soldiers off to war, doesn't send out drones or have the death penalty.

    Why the Obama administration is "icing" out Iceland from the "Our Ocean" conference is beyond me. I don't get the motivation for doing that.

    I do see the difference in a cultural history of whale hunting and commercial whale fishing, but if Iceland only snares a small number a year, not endangering the species, then it isn't a threat. Is there competition with the U.S. or its major allies on this issue? or the U.S. government wanting to appease environmentalists or any other countries? These things are always fraught with issues.

  6. Hi there I am a student from ngatea primary school working on a speech to stop whaling by telling people how to help and why they get spared and as a animal lover I simply love your post and I thank you for it.