On the trail of Iceland’s trade in fin whale

The Nat Geo Wild film about EIA’s investigation into the trade in Icelandic fin whale in Japan finally aired in the US on Tuesday. The investigations we did in Iceland and Japan now feel like a distant memory; so much has happened since, although I believe as these things go the film was actually put together in record time.

Clare Perry filming in Japan for Nat Geo Wild (c) EIA

It all started in September last year when I told the production team which was making the EIA documentaries that I was thinking of going to Iceland to check out the fin whale hunt. It was really just mentioned in passing because our initial plan had been to focus the film on a trip to Japan to investigate the Dall’s porpoise hunt. When I explained what was happening in Iceland, that a single whaling company had massively ramped up Iceland’s whale hunt and that endangered whales were being targeted and no-one really knew what was happening to the whale meat, they were hooked and, before I knew it, we were booking four flights to Iceland and not two.

The Iceland filming went really well, considering it was the first time we’d been to Iceland; we didn’t know what to expect or even if we’d find anything at all that could be used. By the time we came back, we were firmly focused on following up the Icelandic trade in Japan and the scene was set for the whole documentary. In February this year, we spent two-and-a-half weeks in Japan tracking down the traders and the importing company, and the filming was pretty much done, bar the (painful) face-to-face interviews.

Investigations are never easy and the addition of a film crew certainly is challenging. Investigations are not glamorous – they are often boring, there’s a lot of waiting, a lot of driving, quite a few dead ends – and this is pretty difficult for a film crew to cope with. And, of course, they had to hold back when we were going in with a hidden camera and talking to the traders.

Probably the hardest thing for us to cope with was the endless wide view or different angled shots required around every single potential scene (most of which end on the cutting room floor!), usually at the end of a long day.

The only time I remember refusing point blank to do what I was asked to stand in the middle of the road in Tokyo’s wholesale fishmarket while being filmed from the car park above. Anyone who has ever been to Tsukiji fishmarket will know that you take your life into your hands when you try to even cross a road. There’re literally hundreds of small motorised carts loaded with seafood zooming around all over the place, interspersed with smaller hand-drawn carts, guys on bikes and larger trucks and lorries. Standing in the middle of the road there would be a bit like standing in the middle of the M25 on a Friday afternoon of a Bank Holiday weekend – total chaos, very dangerous and I’d rather face a dozen angry dolphin hunters!

Despite these challenges we actually got what we needed, and in time for us to produce a report for the International Whaling Commission meeting this year which sparked some well-deserved and long-overdue criticism of Iceland.

We are now waiting with bated breath to see if President Obama will fulfil his election promise and take strong measures to stop Iceland’s whaling. In July 2011, the US Commerce Secretary certified to the President that Iceland was ‘diminishing the effectiveness of the IWC’ by allowing commercial whaling and exporting endangered fin whale meat. This allows the President to prohibit imports of Icelandic products as well as taking other action against Iceland, and he has until September 17 to decide.

If you want to help stop Iceland’s renegade whaling, urge President Obama to apply trade sanctions against Icelandic fishing interests linked to whaling.