Conservationists have issued an appeal for tourists not to eat whale meat when they visit Iceland.
According to the Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society (WDCS), between 35 and 40 per cent of the meat taken from the minke whales killed by Icelandic whalers is eaten by tourists holidaying in the country.
The WDCS said that a lot of the tourists did not realise the damage the trade was doing to wild populations, so it has launched a summer awareness campaign, urging tourists in Iceland to enjoy watching live whales on organised sightseeing tours rather than in restaurants.
According to WDCS officials, more than 100 restaurants and shops are selling the meat, not just as steaks but smoked and marinated as well.
Society whale watching lead Vanessa Williams-Grey said: "Sadly, we are seeing increasing numbers of tourists walking off whale watching vessels and straight into restaurants that serve whale meat".
"We ask that people resist the temptation to give the meat a try despite what you may be told by local whale hunters. The fact is that only a small percentage of Icelandic people eat the meat these days. The whales suffer a long and slow death, they are not suitable as a species for human harvesting and, contrary to myth, they are not responsible for reducing local fish stocks."
The campaign follows the recent announcement of a similar call from the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW WHALES), whose volunteers will be donning 'whale tail' costumes to discourage visitors from sampling whale meat.
Their campaign uses the slogan 'Meet Us Don't Eat Us' and targets tourists because the environmental organisation believes that many of them are eating the meat out of curiosity and because they mistakenly believe it is a traditional dish eaten by most Icelanders.
Icelandic fisherman argue that hunting whales is part of the island's heritage but, according to IFAW, a Gallup poll from June 2010 showed that only 5% of Icelanders claim to eat the meat regularly and that it is not an ancient dish as Iceland's commercial whaling started in 1948 and stopped in 1989, with a few people starting whaling again eight years ago.
The minke whale itself grows to 25-30 feet (7.8-9 m) long and weighs up to 6.8 tonnes. Minkes, like all baleen whales, are seasonal feeders, travelling widely in search of food and seiving ocean water to filter out plankton, krill and small fish. They will also chase sardines, anchovies, cod, herring, and capelin. Minke whales either travel singly or in small pods of two or three.
Top Image: Raw whale meat © kavring