Over the past few days we were able to catch up with our good friend Arne Feuerhahn of the organization Hard to Port. HTP was created to campaign against, and bring the end of commercial whaling in the country of Iceland. Their first Icelandic whaling campaign ended just a couple weeks ago and was able to get worldwide media attention putting Iceland’s commercial whaling in the cross hairs of conservation activists worldwide. Take a look at our discussion!
1) Can you tell me about Hard To Port? What led you to want to start this organization?
I have been involved with other marine conservation organizations and campaigns in the past. Whaling is something that I have been opposed to for a very long time, even before I got into activism in my late teens. In 2014, I staged a one-man protest in Reykjavik against the slaughter of endangered fin whales. At the time, I wasn’t involved with any organization. But as the 2014 whaling season was about to begin, I felt like I had to make a public statement against this killing. The hunting season was just a week away when I decided to occupy one of the harpoon ships while it was still in port. I spent 15 hours in the crow’s nest of the Hvalur 8, which is one of two whaling ships deployed for the hunt of fin whales. I used my cell phone to spread the news on social media and to inform local news stations. Given the minimal planning and resources that went into the protest, I’d say that it worked out quite well.
I was encouraged by the positive reaction that I received in response to my protest, and after I returned to Berlin I decided to form a more serious and organized form of opposition, one that could have a greater impact. A couple of months later, I registered Hard To Port together with some friends of mine as a non-profit organization dedicated to the protection marine wildlife in Iceland.
2) Can you tell me about the first campaign?
The Whaler Watching Campaign was our first campaign in Iceland. Or, to be more precise, it was the first stage of our campaign. The Whaler Watching Campaign is part of a larger education campaign through which we aim to change people’s minds about whaling in Iceland. Our primary work was to monitor and document the commercial whaling activities. We believe that legally-obtained detailed documentation and media coverage has the potential to kick-start a much-needed public debate on the defensibility of commercial whaling in Iceland. Much information on these practices is tightly controlled by the whaling industry itself. With the Whaler Watching Campaign we want to counter steer this one-sided source of information and gather and distribute comprehensive data on these operations that is in the interest of everyone. We hope that once people learn more about these extremely cruel operations, they will put pressure on their politicians to put an end to whaling in Iceland.
I like to use a quote from Paul McCartney that goes like, “If slaughterhouses had glass walls, everyone would be a vegetarian.“You could rephrase that statement for the case of commercial whaling: If people knew what these animals have to go through, how they suffer and what horrible deaths they die, the public outcry would be huge and the days of whaling would be numbered. So with that in mind, I believe the documentation of these activities, Can play a key role in ending these operations in the near future.
3) Can you tell me how you ended up on a whale carcass? Can you walk me through what happened?
The whaling station is a 40 min. drive from the capital Reykjavik. To stay up to date with the whaling ship’s movements we had apps installed on our mobile devices that would give us detailed information about the whaling fleet’s location, their course, and their speed. So we were quite well informed when to expect them back from sea. The Hvalur 9 was the first ship to change course and head back to the whaling station. We packed up our gear and drove from Reykjavik to Hvalfjörður, which is home to the only whaling station left in Iceland. Once we got there, I and another team member got into our wetsuits, prepared a small inflatable canoe that we had brought from Berlin, and slowly made our way down to the water. Meanwhile our media team took their positions on a close-by hill from which one can overlook almost the entire fjord and the whaling station itself.
We launched our boat right next to the sunken whaling ships Hvalur 6 and 7. These vessels had been sunk by animal rights activists in the late 80s. They have been tied up next to the whaling station for years and they do not look like they will ever go out to sea again. They are really in terrible shape.
The boat went into the water and we started paddling towards the whaling vessel, which was slowly approaching the pier. The crew seemed a bit irritated about our sudden appearance next to their ship. We launched three distress
signals to make our standpoint and opposition to their activities a bit more visible. After one minute, the whole vessel was covered in orange smoke, which turned out to be a powerful image that made it into international newspapers, like the Independent, the Guardian and the local media the next day.
As soon as the dead whale was detached from the starboard side of the Hvalur 9, a big winch located at the whaling station slowly startedto pull in the dead animal’s body.
We paddled alongside the body and at some point I just decided to jump onto the whale. By that time, the whole staff of the whaling station were outside and were staring at us. But they seemed to be pretty calm and just seemed to wonder what the hell was going on. The intention behind this action was not to disrupt the landing-process but to draw attention to this ongoing atrocity. I think we did quite well.
4) Are you happy with the results?
I am very happy with the kind support and the positive feedback that our work has received from the people in Iceland. I think that if you approach people in a friendly and respectful way, your chances are good that they will listen to what you have to say. We always communicated our intentions and what our work was all about. The response was predominantly positive. Our team was offered free tours and the hostel where we stayed supported us with free accommodation during our 2nd week in Iceland. A lot of people agreed to talk with us on camera for our documentary. So yeah, the people we had contact with made us feel quite welcome, and that felt good. Other NGOs congratulated us via email or social media which was really nice as well and gave us an additional motivational boost. On the other hand, I am of course not happy about the fact that the whale hunt continues as we speak. It’s going to take more action to bring commercial whaling in Iceland to an end once and for all. But we did what we could with the means that were available to us, and the response was overwhelmingly positive. That is something that we can and will build on for the future.
5) What does the future hold for Hard to Port?
When I started Hard To Port I pictured it as a campaign-focused organization. The educational approach of the Whaler Watching campaign in Iceland includes investigation, documentation and education, all of which adds up to what I take to be a promising strategy. I am optimistic that our campaign can have a positive impact. All in all the feedback that we have received so far has been positive both in Iceland and abroad, and that shows me that we are on the right track with our approach. I am optimistic that our organization can make a vital contribution to bringing about a complete stop of all commercial whaling activities in Iceland in the coming years.
For now, we will focus on the next steps of our Whaler Watching Campaign. We are still in our baby shoes with Hard To Port, and our campaign for the protection of whales in Iceland has just begun. You can expect to hear more from us inthe future.