COVID Silver Linings: Is Iceland Getting Out Of The Whaling Business?

The pandemic is making whaling a difficult business, and that is squeezing Icelandic whalers hard:

Icelandic whaling company IP-Utgerd announced April 24 that it is stopping whaling completely, while the country’s largest whaling firm, Hvalur hf., says it won’t be hunting any whales for the second year in a row.

IP-Utgerd, which mainly targeted minke whales (Balaenoptera acutorostrata), cited financial difficulties after no-fishing zones were extended off the Icelandic coast, forcing its boats to go further and further offshore. Hvalur, which hunts threatened fin whales (Balaenoptera physalus) as well as minke whales, is ceasing operations because of stiff competition with Japan, among other reasons, according to Kristján Loftsson, the company’s CEO.

One company down. Another teetering.

Tilikum To Iceland Rumor Explained

Sorry. Not that it’s a surprise, but Tili isn’t going anywhere.

When Icelandic media started reporting a few days ago that a permit request to return Tilikum to Icelandic waters had been filed with the Fisheries Ministry, it was a puzzler. There is just about zero chance that SeaWorld would ever release Tilikum (or any other killer whale). Yet, the Ministry Of Fisheries seemed to be confirming that at least someone had filed a permit request.

Icelandic media kept churning out stories, with at least one yielding an interesting anecdote about the young Tilikum in captivity. And I kept reading along, until I finally saw a name associated with the permit in this story (via tortured Google translation):

In the register of the Ministry stated that the application was received in August. Appointment of qualit inc., From Tracy ELPoured and copy center Sea World. Requested the Ministry to permit that Tilikum will be transferred to his home after decades stay as gripping performances. “It is not a position has been taken to the communication. But, here might be a new whale-tale coming up, “said an employee of the Ministry. “They want to get rid of him. But, this seems to be financially. “

So a new permit was filed in August. And seemed to come from a person called Tracy EL Poured, of Qualit Inc. The name Tracy Poured sounded very familiar and a quick search of my e-mail revealed she had been in contact with me in August (according to her e-mail signature she is CEO of Qualia Inc.), to express her support, and belief that the world is changing for the better. We also connected on LinkedIn (that’s her profile picture above), so she could share with me her own lengthy analysis of Tilikum and how his life had affected him.

I e-mailed Tracy yesterday to ask her about the Tilikum permit application, and she did not want to respond directly to the question of whether she had filed it (though she did make clear she did not in any way speak for SeaWorld). After some back and forth, here is what she said:

I appreciate your inquiry and desire for clear answers, Tim. I answer what is mine to answer. Some things are not mine to answer.

I pointed out the 1992 application* in response to your statement “SeaWorld would never release Tilikum”.

I’m involved in conversations with Iceland, SeaWorld, scientists and many more involved in the orca Tilikum situation.

The mention of the 1992 application refers to the inquiry SeaWorld made at the time it was trying to import Tilikum from Sealand to its Orlando park on an emergency basis. Part of that process was establishing that there was no good alternative to the import, so SeaWorld needed Iceland to say they didn’t want Tilikum back.

Separately, I learned that Tracy had been in touch with some of the former SeaWorld trainers about the possibility of participating in a rehab and release process for Tilikum.

So I think it is safe to conclude that Tracy filed the permit application, or at least played a role in it, in a well-meaning but quixotic hope that somehow she could help orchestrate Tilikum’s return to Icelandic waters. And the media took it from there.

“Damn, I was kinda hoping the rumors were true.”

Tilikum To Iceland (cont.)

Sigfus: "He caught me from behind!"
Sigfus: “He caught me from behind!”

The chatter about whether someone has filed for a permit to return Tilikum to Icelandic waters continues. I don’t for a minute believe that SeaWorld is in any way involved. And if any sort of permit request was in fact filed (I’m trying to confirm that) then I strongly suspect that someone is spoofing the Ministry Of Fisheries, or it has nothing to do with Tilikum.

More interesting to me is this report about all the rumors (sent to me by Elizabeth Batt). The details of Tilikum’s experience in captivity in Iceland during the many months before he was shipped to SeaLand of the Pacific have always been sparse. So this is worth noting, and adding to our understanding of this early chapter of Tilikum’s story:

Tilikum was captured by the Icelandic coast in 1983 and kept at the Aquarium in Hafnarfjörður to begin with.

There, Sigfús Halldórsson began the animal’s training. Sigfús is now a computer scientist and lives in England, but remembers Tilikum very well.

Tilikum was being prepped for transport to Canada when Sigfús started training him and was the smallest one of three killer whales kept at the aquarium.

Sigfús fed Tilikum on herring and had failed a few attempts to lure the animal into another pool. Eventually, it was decided upon to move Tilikum with an overhead crane.

“I foolishly jumped into the pool to remove the rail between the two pools and he must have been mad about being separated from the other two killer whales because he caught me from behind and pulled me underwater. He tore a big piece from the back of my wetsuit but I managed somehow to get out of the pool,” Sigfús told Vísir.is

He added that apart from that incident, Tilikum was normally sweet-tempered. “He was my friend, I often put my arm into his mouth to scratch his tongue; he liked that. He was normally very sweet except for that one time he got angry.”

Those were the cowboy days. My guess is that, in retrospect, Sigfus must think he is pretty lucky guy to have emerged from the “one time he got angry” fully intact.

Keiko 2? Tilikum?

“Well, no one asked me, but who wouldn’t want to retire to Iceland?”

Some curious speculation in the Icelandic media about the possibility of another effort to rehab and release a killer whale in Icelandic waters:

American parties have applied for a license to the Ministry of Fisheries [for] dropping killer whales in the ocean around Iceland in the near future according to data from the ministry. [Whale expert] Gisli Víkingsson says that [during] the summer [he] has been invited to participate in the project but he declined it.

Killer believed to be the case called Tilikum and he has played in their arts sædýragörðum Sealand in British Columbia in Canada and Seaworld in Orlando, USA.

More here, if you can decode the English delivered by Google Translate.

It’s (almost) inconceivable to me that Tilikum will ever be taken back to Icelandic waters, and definitely inconceivable that he could ever be released. But someone, somewhere, clearly thinks someone, somewhere has applied for a permit with the Icelandic Fisheries Ministry to do….something. How’s that for a clear and detailed report? If you know more, please share.

(Hat tip to @ShamuWorld)