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Informing marine protected area boundaries.


Iceland is one of the few countries that allows commercial whaling, allocating a quota to whalers to hunt endangered fin whales and minke whales despite a growing tourism industry. An arbitrary line cuts through Faxafloi Bay in Southwest Iceland, designating the nearshore waters as a whale sanctuary and prohibiting whaling within its perimeter. Whaling continues just outside of this boundary despite the fact that more than 300,000 people (roughly the equivalent of Iceland’s entire population) visit the country to go whale watching annually. Almost 80% of the minke whaling in Faxafloi takes place at this invisible border, resulting in conflict between the burgeoning whale watching industry and whalers.


The whale watching industry is a sustainable form of tourism that supports the economy and provides far more jobs than commercial whaling.  In 2014, 118,000 whale watchers departed from Reykjavik in 2014, resulting in over $7 million in revenue from whale watching ticket sales.  By contrast, each minke whale landed is worth approximately $7,550, roughly the amount of income generated from a single whale watching trip.

Oceans Forward is helping the whale watching industry collect the data needed to accomplish expansion of the sanctuary by understanding the fine scale movements and behavior of minke whales within the bay.  This year marks the beginning of a three-year study to determine the fine scale movements of these animals and understand exactly how they use Faxafloi Bay.  The information we gather during this study will support a clear, focused, and compelling case for protected area expansion to the Icelandic government, spearheaded by Icelandic locals whose livelihoods depend on keeping minke whales alive.

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