For all the trouble Iceland, Norway and Japan went through to defy the rest of the world and resume whaling, it's starting to look like whaling isn't going to be that profitable. Meanwhile, the whale watching industry continues to grow -- but how big it is no one is sure.
People have been hunting and eating whales for thousands of years, but we've also been wiping out large populations of whales, too. The International Whaling Commission, which started in 1946, banned commercial whaling in 1986, but a few countries keep at it. Japan does it under the guise of scientific research, Norway objected from the start and recently loosened its whaling rules. Iceland started hunting whales again in 2006. (Meanwhile a number of countries, including the U.S. and Canada allow sustenance whaling for native people.)
But once they get all this whale meat, there's still the question of who will want to eat it. The Wall Street Journal recently reported that in in Reykjavik a whale meat company is trying to "hook" urban hipsters on whale meat by selling it in vacuum-sealed ready packs and offering recipe tips.The Journal quotes the manager of Reykjavik's Elding Whale Watching saying hunting whales makes them afraid of boats, which makes whale-watching more difficult and less fun for people. "Our business is much more profitable than theirs," Eva Maria Thorarinsdottir, marketing says. In general the whale watching industry also thinks whale hunters prey on whales that have gotten used to harmless tourist boats. Whalers say both industries can co-exist.
The Japanese government, which considers anti-whaling sentiment to be cultural imperialism, is spending money to try to make the Japanese like whale meat. The Washington Post says the Japanese government and pro-whaling groups spend $5 million a year promoting whale meat. They'll show up at schools to have kids try it, for example. Meanwhile, demand is falling along with prices. Whale meat is down 20% from 1999 to 2004 ($15 a pound to $12 a pound). And they still have extra that they have to freeze.
No one is exactly sure how big the whale-watching industry is. I see the $1 billion figure thrown around a lot online. but that figure is stale, dating back to 1998. Australia claims half a billion themselves. A recent report put the figure on whale watching in Latin America at $80 million in tickets and $280 million in related expenses. Whale watching expeditions popping up around the world, according to WhaleGuide. I'd bet whale watching keeps growing and the demand for whale meat keeps shrinking.
Animals & Money: Whaling on welfare