The international community has begun cracking down on the few countries left that allow whaling. Japan was recently ordered by the UN to stop its annual whale hunt. And the United States recently imposed a series of "diplomatic measures" against Iceland, in the hopes of encouraging the country to abandon whaling.
In a message sent to Congress, the President acknowledged that Iceland's actions jeopardize the survival of the fin whale, which is listed in the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) as among the species most threatened with extinction. Iceland’s actions were also found to undermine multilateral efforts to ensure greater worldwide protection for whales.
This decision comes two-and-a-half years after the President first ordered diplomatic measures against Iceland for engaging in commercial whaling in violation of the worldwide commercial whaling ban. Despite those measures, Iceland continues to kill whales—killing 35 minke whales and 134 endangered fin whales in 2013 alone—as well as export whale meat and blubber. A massive shipment of 2,000 tons of whale products is currently en route from Iceland to Japan.
But Iceland doesn't seem to be moved. Reykjavik's English-language alternative weekly, The Grapevine, published the results of a poll that indicates Iceland's love of whaling (be warned: the article is accompanied by a gross whaling-related photo):
Vísir reports that, according to a Gallup poll conducted on behalf of the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW), 73% of Icelanders believe it is important that whaling be conducted humanely. 59.3% also believe whaling is already done humanely.
The word "humane" is all about feeling good, though: A Google translation of that Vísir page says that there is "no international definition of what constitutes humane hunting of wild mammals." It's no surprise that Icelanders are in denial about a major part of their culture. People love familiarity and fear change, especially when it's being forced by people from outside their community. And it's not just Iceland, and it's not just whales: I freely admit that I've got the same "humane" blinders on when it comes to cows and chickens.
But I think this Icelandic cultural blindness for whaling is a useful demonstration of cultural resistance to change. It happens all the time in Seattle. Again and again as a city, we've been opposed to a plastic bag ban, we've opposed some ridiculous "war on cars," we've opposed density. But when the change finally comes, after all the grumbling, the world doesn't end. The sky hasn't fallen because restaurant owners are forced to offer paid sick leave. Nobody has died from all the microbes living in their "unsanitary" reusable bags. Maybe the next time we feel a knee-jerk negative response to some proposed change, we'd be wise to think of the majority of Icelanders, with their uninformed defense of the "humane" whaling industry.