Thursday, June 13, 2013

Eyeball-to-Eyeball with the Whalers In Iceland

By Jonathan Zwick

The list of arguments against whaling long and compelling, but the key point is a shocker.  Yesterday when I went to document the first ships leaving harbor, the first thing I noticed were the massive crowds of tourists boarding and de-boarding whale watching ship after whale watching ship.  Mothers, fathers, brothers, daughters, friends and couples from 2 to 90 years old traveling from countries all over the world.  I watched as they passed right by the HVALUR 8 and HVALUR 9, the ships that were leaving the docks to go and kill the whales the tourists had just enjoyed.  Some of the tourists walked directly into restaurants in the same harbor and ordered the whale they had appreciated just minutes before.

I’m here in Reykjavik to expose this problem, but it has already proven difficult.  There were three separate occasions in three different locations where men in different vehicles approached me as I filmed Hvalur 8 and 9.  A van with three men pulled up directly in front of me and reversed at high speed before slamming on their breaks.  They got out of their car glaring at me until I packed up my gear and left.  Similar instances ensued with an Explorer that pulled up directly in front of me to obstruct my view and a Tourag that did two circles around me, looked me in the face and zoomed off.  It is clear they know their industry is a dying one, and I believe we need to put an immediate end to it via awareness.
                                      Whaler heads out (c) Jonny Zwick 2013

Seeing Hvalur 8 and 9 in the old harbor in Reykjavik for the first time is something that I will never forget.; not due to the ships’ size, design or some other impressive attribute one might remember a ship for, but for the sheer purpose of their existence.  It was the intention that the murderous sea vessels represented that had my skin crawling.  I was entranced by them as they peacefully bobbed back and forth in the early morning, trying to grasp the idea of men blasting explosive harpoons into an endangered species from the platforms I was staring at.  Over the duration of this Icelandic fishing season, Hvalur, the sole whaling company in Iceland, will utilize the very boats I’m describing to slaughter 184 endangered and highly intelligent fin whales and many other minkes.

I arrived in Iceland on Friday,  June 7 and the first of Loftsson’s (CEO of Hvalur) vessels was scheduled for departure the coming Sunday.  After stopping at the harbor, I walked towards my American friend’s apartment where I would be staying in Reykjavik.   I was introduced to the three Icelandic women she lives with, who with utter curiosity, asked, “why the hell did you buy a one-way ticket to Iceland?”  Understanding how sensitive of a subject whaling is in Iceland, I thought I’d keep it to myself that I’d traveled to their country to expose the illogical and internationally illegal practice of hunting whales.  This turned out to be a good decision as one of the girls’ fathers was a professional whale hunter before sustaining a critical injury at sea.  The content I have since collected has been and will continue to be uploaded in coffee shops!

I decided it would be important to see if the majority of the population felt the same as my new Icelandic roommates.  I spoke with young people at bars and at a house party where the general consensus was “whaling is good, the whales eat the fish that we export so we need to kill them.”  This is really their only argument and I followed with a diplomatic barrage of rebuttals that can be broken down in key points:

-Iceland’s global image and reputation will take a large hit and sanctions against their exportation are already being discussed.

-Inhumane to kill intelligent and ancient creatures that have been roaming these oceans for millions of years before humans existed.  The harpoons often miss and lead to a slow, miserable death.

-A lead shareholder in Hvalur has recently admitted that whaling is wrong and archaic, saying it is time for Iceland to move on with the times.

-No country has the right to sacrifice global biodiversity for a marginal profit that has not even been proven.  Whale meat still sits in Hvalur’s freezers from their last hunting season in 2009!

-Japanese companies are using fin whale meat in dog treats.  An endangered species is being fed to pets as a status symbol.
-There will be less whale watching, one of tourism’s biggest industries.  Tourism has increased 300% in two years. 

Hvalur 8 and 9 have each gone out multiple times now, but never at the same time.  They seem to be test runs, and no fin whales are yet to be killed.  That will come soon.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

A Dolphin Funeral?

There are so many times that we are made aware of the special nature of dolphins, their physical beauty, their intelligence and even their spiritual nature. I am a sceptic by nature and a journalist with legal training by profession, so when I write of spirituality among dolphins it does not come from my mystical side but from strict observation. Below is a report from Mike Riggs, who observed something marvelous and not a little sad off San Onofre, California.
Last Friday night I went surfing close to San Onofre power plant. When we got there we saw dolphins jumping towards a couple of surfers down the beach. I paddled out just before sunset and a large dolphin jumped towards me. I've seen that a thousand times so I thought it was cool, but no big deal. When I was sitting in the water I looked back at the beach. I noticed a shiny thing a quarter mile down the beach and thought it was a dead seal. I got a wave down
towards it and went in to check it out. It was a large dead dolphin, 7 ft, healthy looking (it was dead but looked well fed, no large injuries.) It looked like its stomach was out of his mouth, and his anal area had spilled out a bit. But it was fully intact, teeth, fins, everything intact. Slightly balloted. (bloated?)

Half hour later the tide came up high enough to bring it back down into the shorebreak a bit. A few minutes after it was bobbing in the shorebreak, 20 dolphins came in to just past where the waves were breaking. I have never seen this, but they stood still in the water, about 15 ft apart, completely stationary with just the tips of their dorsal fins barely above the surface. They stayed 15 ft apart all spaced out, completely still, ALL facing the dead dolphin on the beach/shorebreak. They remained still, facing the dead one for
5 or 6 minutes. They didn't move, stayed evenly spaced apart, all facing in. Then they slowly went back under and slowly swam away as a group.

It truly seemed to me like they were showing respect, almost reverence for the dead one. It was like a dolphin funeral. They weren't being aggressive or curious, they were still, concentrating on the event. It was truly moving. I spend a lot of time on the beach and in the water. I've seen literally thousands of dolphins, and seen them do many things. But this was different. They were concentrating on their positioning, placement, direction they were
facing and each other.