As witnessed by the many tales about them, whales have long fascinated man. As well as being in fear of these giant kings of the deep, people have been enchanted by them. Many stories describe the heroic struggles between man and whale, probably the most famous of which is Moby Dick, a novel by the American writer Herman Melville.
The most famous of the Icelandic whales is the killer whale Keikó. About twenty years ago, a killer whale was caught in waters around Iceland so as to become a performer in an American ocean zoo. It was here the whale was named Keikó and, amongst other things, performed in Free Willy, a film about a whale who was caged in an ocean zoo but managed to regain his freedom. The movie had a strong influence on popular opinions about whaling and many organizations were established to protect whales. Keikó's own story was so like that of Willy the whale that the decision was made to return him to his original environment, off the shores of Iceland. Preparations began for this enormous project and, in September 1998, the killer whale was transported by plane to Heimaey Island in the Vestmannaeyjar. After some time of adjustment in an enclosed bay, he was set free.
There has been a lot of debate about this matter in Iceland, and many believe that things have gone rather too far and that it is time for Icelanders to begin whaling again. Others point out that Keikó's story reveals that money can be made from whales without whaling: around the world, there is now great interest in whales and this can be exploited in a different way.
Whaling was practiced in Iceland from the Middle Ages until at least 1986, when Iceland banned whaling except for the purposes of scientific research. In 1989, all whaling was ceased.
Today, whale watching trips are becoming ever-more popular, and make up a specialized branch of the Icelandic tourism industry. Those who lead the whale watching trips are opposed to whaling. Others point out that whaling and whale watching can co-exist very well.
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