Gunnar Bergmann Jonsson owns Hrefnuveiðimanna ehf, the Icelandic Minke Whalers Association — Iceland's biggest killer of minke whales for the domestic Iceland market.
In a bid to entice urban hipsters, Mr. Jonsson started selling marinated whale meat, vacuum-sealed and ready for cooking. Radio spots announced that the meat was back in stores. Through newspaper ads, he has tried to entice consumers by offering preparation tips, such as how to avoid overcooking. At upscale meat shops, Mr. Jonsson began distributing free recipe cards that read, "A feast for the barbecue or the pan." Recipes include whale pepper steak and whale schnitzel. [source]
"Of course whales are big and beautiful and everything," he says.
"We have every year people campaigning against us in newspapers around the world. But people aren't saying they won't travel to Iceland because it's a whaling nation. That's just bullshit. You can see the numbers."
"I can't see any reason to stop whaling just because the travel industry is going so well."
His main concern is that the minke whales are disappearing – more than half in less than a decade:
"They have gone somewhere else," he says. "Something is going on. Something is changing."
Mr. Jonsson believes he can hook people -- his age and younger -- if they only try the stuff. It looks and tastes like beef but costs about half as much. Young people should like that bargain, Mr. Jonsson reckons.
Mr. Jonsson concedes that luring young people back "will definitely take time." For now, he is counting on word of mouth from people like 32-year-old Haukur Margeir Hrafnsson, a Reykjavik resident with an Egyptian eye tattooed on the back of his shaved head.
"For a meat eater like me, it's a delicious substitute for beef," says Mr. Hrafnsson, as he goes for some whale sushi.
Mr. Jonsson says Hrefnuveidimenn still isn't profitable, mainly due to scale: It has only two ships and government permission to kill around 40 minke whales each year. He's hoping local officials will eventually let the company harpoon many more -- a move that Mr. Jonsson believes could help him expand the company and allow it to pursue bigger markets, such as Japan.
Eva Maria Thorarinsdottir, marketing manager of Reykjavik's Elding Whale Watching, says minke whales were much friendlier before hunting resumed, but now they avoid ships. She regards whale-hunting as akin to fox-hunting in England: a legacy kept alive only by "proud, rich traditionalists." She adds: "Our business is much more profitable than theirs."