The majority of the day was spent under overcast skies in Husavik, the whale watching capital of Iceland. After the close encounters in Antarctica the standard for whale experiences has been raised unreasonably high, so instead of going on a boat ride I visited the whale museum. The museum is excellent and features skeletons from several beached whales that do a good job conveying how big the animals are since… well, since they’re skeletons of whales, and are life-sized and stuff. Interesting facts learned about orcas: the females live to be 90 (!), and the name “killer whale” was bastardized in translation – early Basque whalers saw orcas attacking larger whales and named them “whale killers”. Interesting facts about sperm whales: they can dive to two miles in depth and hold their breath for two hours; no word on the origin of the name, and I won’t make any guesses since my mom reads this journal.
An interesting aspect to the museum was the fact that Iceland, along with Norway and Japan, is on the short list of countries actively engaging in whaling. There is a history of eating whale meat in Iceland going back over a thousand years, and the Icelandic word describing a beached whale essentially translates as “hitting the lottery” since back in the day a beached whale could feed several families through the winter. Things are different now, however, and while Icelanders will still consume minke whale meat in small amounts, the majority of the meat from the endangered fin whales that were killed in 2006 was never purchased and remains frozen in industrial freezers. While minimal whaling for minke whales might be seen as justified, the push from the whaling industry for larger harvests of minke, fin, and potentially other whales just doesn’t make much sense, especially considering that revenue from whale watching far exceeds whaling revenues. The position on the issue in this museum was clear, if muted, and they posted an interesting cartoon on the subject from a Reykjavik newspaper that showed a whale arguing with whalers that an intelligent animal shouldn’t be killed, and ended with the whalers shooting the whale and then asking “Hey, did we just shoot a talking whale?”