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HARD TO PORT - WHALER WATCHING CAMPAIGN | ICELAND 2016

HARD TO PORT - WHALER WATCHING CAMPAIGN 2016 | ICELAND

In the summer of 2016 I spent ten days in Iceland, supporting and documenting the WHALER WATCHING 2016 campaign of the NGO HARD TO PORT which is dedicated to work towards ending the commercial whale hunt in Iceland. Hard to Port’s main objective is to build an organized and active community of nature enthusiasts, visitors and residents of Iceland who will jointly and individually lobby for an end of the annual slaughter of whales in Icelandic waters. This was the 2nd leg of their campaign, which, in 2015, had already made it to international newspapers. 

When I boarded the plane I was excited to see what's lying ahead of me. Finally going to see this magical place with my own eyes, meeting friends again who I'd already know from my/our work with the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, yet I was also asking myself how "how am I gonna react to see the whalers, the kill ships? How am I gonna react to people starting discussions or even worse fights?" All these things were on my while the plane was heading towards Iceland and while we started into the sunset it got brighter and brighter as we were moving up north. 

Landed in Keflavik, I got picked up by two of the HTP activists and we drove to our base for the next ten days where all the others were already waiting for me. 

The temporary home-base for this campaign offered an amazing view and Iceland welcomed me with a beautiful sunset at midnight. 

In Reykjavík Old Harbour the fascination and extermination of Icelandic wildlife are separated from each other by only a few metres. On the right side of the pier you could see groups of people returning or leaving for/from whale watching, while on the left you had people preparing the kill ships for a possible next year's hunting season. 

These kill ships are the Hvalur 8 and Hvalur 9, two harpoon ships still operative to hunt Fin whales around Iceland, owned by Kristján Loftsson. This year they will remain moored as the hunt on Fin whales has been called off.

Whales are just another fish for me, an abundant marine resource, nothing else.
— Kristján Loftsson

While the Fin whale meat is exported to Japan, Minke whale meat is sold in restaurants and markets within Iceland. A large percentage of the whale meat is actually eaten by tourists as it's sold to them as a "must try" or "traditional Icelandic dish". That's the reason why this leg of Hard To Port's 2016 campaign was mainly focused on reaching out to tourists and making them aware of Icelandic whaling and about which important role each and everyone of them has in this.

Reactions to the activists were mostly positive. Most people they spoke to were totally supportive to their cause. Although, sadly, some confrontational discussions also had to be dealt with.

While outreach work was the main focus of this campaign the activists also wanted to document the whaling activities. Using the "Marine Traffic" website and app they monitored the movement of the whaling ships. The idea was to record some aerial footage with the help of drones but sometimes the weather conditions just won't allow them to. 

The foggy harbor of Hafnarfjordur, home of Gunnar Bergmann Jonsson's company "Hrafnreydur ehf". 

Here we see the "Hrafn­reydur" returning back to port. They didn't catch a whale that day due to bad weather conditions, as we were informed. As the weather was against the activists, it was also against the whalers. A successful day for the whales at least.

Social media has become a very important and powerful tool for NGOs and activists. Within seconds they can publish images, video and information and spread these out to countless people around the globe. This being said it's comprehensible that loads of working hours are spent in front of computer screens, not only for social media, but also for communication, research and future planning.

The "Rokkarinn", owned by "Hrefnuveiðimenn ehf" is another one of the few vessels hunting Minke whales in Iceland today. With only a size of 14 x 4 meters it feels so small when you're standing next to it, yet you realize it's big enough to help in the killing of hundreds of whales.

An activist is launching a drone to shoot some footage of the Minke whaling ship.

The "Rokkarinn"'s 50 mm harpoon cannon is covered while the ship's in the harbor. While out hunting this cannon will be used to fire harpoons with grenades attached to them. 

Hvalfjörður

Hvalfjörður is situated in the west of Iceland between Mosfellsbær and Akranes. The fjord is approximately 30 km long and 5 km wide. The name Hvalfjörður is derived from the large number of whales which could be found and caught there. The only whaling station in Iceland is still located in this fjord.

Loftsson's company "Hvalur H/F" owns four catcher ships, although only two are currently in service, named Hvalur 678, and 9. When whales are spotted the catcher ships will engage in pursuit. A 90mm cannon with a grenade tipped harpoon is fired at the target whale. A rope is trailed from the harpoon in order to prevent the whale from being lost.

Each caught whale is secured to the side of a harpoon ship with rope and later towed to this shore station located at Hvalfjörður. Once at the shore station, ropes are used to winch the carcass ashore where workers use specialized tools to butcher the whale.

The Hvalur 6 & 7 were sunk in 1986 by activists of the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society in the port of Reykjavik and afterwards been dragged to Hvalfjörður. These sunken vessels are important in the history of the animal rights movement. 

Screening of the "184" documentary 

During the 2015 campaign film-maker Marc Pierschel shot his documentary film "184". The activists screened the documentary in Reykjavik. Combined with a vegan potluck the evening was a great success for Hard To Port.

Many people showed up and the reactions were interesting to witness. Many didn't seem to have an idea about whaling in Iceland still being existent. A definitive sign of the whaling industry's success in covering their work and hiding it from public. 

Whale-Watching in Húsavík

A total driving time of 16 hours... Husavík and back. Being stuck in tunnels in between fjords for hours. You could clearly see these weren't built to manage the capacities of cars and buses of today's traffic in Iceland: two directional traffic, one lane only, no traffic lights. Imagine what might come out of this. 

Húsavík is a town on the north coast of Iceland on the shores of Skjálfandi bay with 2,237 inhabitants. It's said to be the best spot for whale watching in the Northern hemisphere due to whales of different species that frequently enter the bay.

In Husavík the activists met with Guðbjartur Ellert Jónsson, managing director of North Sailing, a whale watching company, to talk to him about his view on the whaling situation and its future. North Sailing, as well as other whale watching companies want to see an end to commercial whaling in Iceland.

Instead of killing, we are watching, learning and enjoying.
— Guðbjartur Ellert Jónsson

Heading out into the bay. Everybody on the ship was excited to spot whales. Shortly before the activists had learned from Jónsson that even blue whales had been spotted in the bay the last days, so everyone was on the lookout.

The excitement was in everybody's face, especially those who have never seen a whale in its natural and wild habitat.

FORMS OF ACTIVISM: OUTREACH AND PROTEST

Having connected with local vegans, the activists arranged a few protests to raise awareness of the Icelandic whaling situation in touristic hot spots. It was important for the group to connect to local activists as they can have a bigger influence on Icelanders than any group from abroad might have.

These days I spent with the activists of Hard To Port in Iceland also left a lot of time to think about life and the choices that we make and how they affect not only us but every living being and the planet around us and made me realize time and time again that the decision of living a vegan and cruelty-free lifestyle more than 15 years ago still is the right choice for me and that all of us, as humans, need to speak for those who have no voice.