As of 2023, Iceland is one of the few countries that still allows whaling—the hunting of whales (mainly) for food or oil. Fin whales and minke whales are the prime targets, the former for export and the latter for domestic consumption. In Iceland, public opinion on this practice is divided. The juxtaposition of commercial vs environmental motivations is further complicated by at least two other factors. On the one hand, the whale-watching industry is thriving, which obviously benefits from protecting whales. However, on the other hand, many Icelanders make a living in the herring fishing industry, which is adversely affected by large numbers of whales.
If opinion is divided in Iceland, there is no shortage of international organizations advocating a wholesale ban on whaling. Among them is the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, which in 1986 orchestrated the sabotage of the whaling station in Hvalfjörður and sank two whaling vessels in the process, Hvalur 6 RE-376 and Hvalur 7 RE-377. Built in 1946, these two twin vessels had been in the Icelandic whaling fleet since 1961. A few days after the sinking, these vessels were recovered and towed to shore in Hvalfjörður, where they still are to this day.
Hvalfjörður translates as “whale fjord.” Traditional folklore maintains that early settlers spotted a pod of whales in these waters and named the fjord after it. A rival explanation is that the name originates from the presence of a large whale station (or more) in the fjord. To this day, Hvalfjörður is home to the only active whale station in Iceland.
The vessels, commonly referred to as the Beached Whalers, are safely anchored to the shore—side by side, as if they were the mirror image of each other. They are connected to heating and electricity, but damages caused by salt water and years of exposure to the elements were never repaired. Needless to say, they never went whale hunting again. Climbing on board is forbidden.
Know Before You Go
The Beached Whalers can be missed easily, as they are sitting inconspicuously behind a rocky outcrop. The vessels can be reached by following a walking trail from the road. Alternatively, they can be reached by walking along the black beach south-east of the vessels. There is no parking nearby.