Over 80 whale watching operators from thirteen countries, including Iceland and the Dominican Republic, have appealed to Greenland’s Ministers of Tourism and Foreign Affairs to revoke a recent decision to allow hunting of Humpback whales for the first time in 30 years.

Slaughtered whales. * Photo credit: Greenpeace

Many of the operators are from the Caribbean, where the same whales breed each winter and have brought vital tourism, revenue, jobs and investment to coastal communities.

Humpback whales are the most popular whale species in the almost US$3 billion global whale watch business – an industry that Greenland is poised to join. Its recent efforts to promote nature-based tourism have proved successful and a whale watching industry is developing around the Humpback whales that migrate to Greenland’s shores each summer. These include a population of 20-30 individuals that return faithfully each year to Nuuk Fjord on the west coast.

Conservationists and whale watch operators alike are deeply concerned at the decision of the International Whaling Commission (IWC) in June 2010 to grant Greenland a three year quota to hunt Humpbacks. The government of the self-rule Danish territory will allow nine Humpback whales to be harpooned each year – in the same area in which whale watching is taking off.  Greenlandic press has reported that two whales have already been killed.

The Humpback operators’ letter stated: “Humpback whaling in Greenland will not only be a tragedy for the whales and damaging to Greenland’s growing whale-watching industry, but it could harm the broader tourist sector, and the economy as a whole: As several economic and scientific studies demonstrate, humpback hunting will deter tourists from visiting Greenland’s shores which could seriously impact economic development. It would also, inevitably, harm Greenland’s international reputation.”

Their letter concluded: “Humpback whales are precious and the fact that some Humpbacks from the Caribbean population choose to travel to Greenland’s waters to feed each summer is a unique gift. The revenue, jobs and goodwill generated by our whale watching operations are testament to the fact that these whales are worth so much more to Greenland alive than dead. We strongly urge the government of Greenland to reconsider its decision to authorize the resumption of Humpback hunting.”

Whale watch operators in Greenland and the Director of Tourism and Business have expressed concerns about the hunt. The international operators signing the letter hope their voices will help local efforts to persuade the government to revoke its decision.

“CARIBwhale Inc., the association of Whale Watch operators of the Caribbean, is also concerned about this hunt,” said Palesa Leevy, spokeswoman for CARIBwhale. “Currently, whale-watching is being hailed as a major source of foreign exchange revenue, and as a niche market for various Eastern Caribbean islands that are marketing their eco-tourism industries.  It is seen as a sustainable economic alternative for coastal peoples.”