"As a Social Anthropology student, I was fascinated by the unique landscape Iceland forms; not only geographically, but also socially. Spending a semester here as an Erasmus exchange student I decided to do research for my thesis, trying to get the most out of this place and figuring out its unique aspects. I decided to research whales, and more specifically whale-human relationships, since it is a truth universally acknowledged that animals and our relationships with them are of huge social importance, while also being a big indicator of social structure and history, the animal and is re-occurrence in different sceneries caught my attention. Iceland is one of the remaining few countries to still allow commercial whaling, whales are a big part of the tourist industry (whale watching is gradually gaining popularity) and at the same time there is a big national and international movement advocating for animal rights; not to mention the Whale Museum of Reykjavik and the Maritime museum. This ‘’triangle’’ of social dynamics is enriched by the fact that whales (amongst other animals) play a significant role in Nordic and Icelandic mythology and folklore, appearing as gods and as monsters, as creatures to be worshiped and/or feared. As a nation built around, thanks to and also despite the ocean, what could be the way Icelanders conceptualize these animals, what importance do they have for the economy and the social imaginary?
Interestingly enough neo-pagan groups in Iceland are very vocal about animal rights, and in case whales, recasting old Nordic belief systems and also uttering a different relationship with nature and non-human beings.
I decided to research all these things, trying to talk to as many people as I could, to get first-hand ideas and opinions on a very interesting, yet highly controversial, matter. How we should relate to other animals, remains after all, a highly disputed matter, ever universal.
Exploring Iceland was extremely helpful to my research, providing me with ideas, valuable information and tips on how to proceed with my research. I chose to speak to Exploring Iceland, since they are a tourist agency very adamant about animal rights, that has been opposing exploitation and whaling.
I thank them for their help!"
Text and photos by:
Social Anthropology student,
Panteion University of Athens,