Pilot Whale Hunt in the Faroe Islands

Grindwale

Whale Hunt in the Faroe Islands

For centuries, pilot whales have been killed while migrating off the coasts of the Faroe Islands. In the past, whaling was important for the Faroese to survive. But today it is all about spectacle and adrenaline.

It is an essential principle of the protection of species that the disturbance and tracking of whales during sensitive periods (e.g., birth and rearing) is to be avoided. Accordingly, the International Whaling Commission (IWC) has – alongside the existing global ban on commercial whaling – specifically enacted a ban on the hunting of whale mothers. European legislation also explicitly protects pilot whales from hunting. Yet, all of this receives little attention from the Faroese.

When pilot whales are sighted around the islands, the whalers move their boats into position. They then turn on the deafening underwater sonar and round up entire family groups at sea. In those hour-long drive hunts, the distressed animals are driven to the shore. Once stranded in the shallow water of a bay, metal hooks are rammed into the animal’s blowholes and used to drag the whales ashore, where they are killed with a hunting knife by cutting through their spinal cord. The whale meat and blubber of the slaughtered animals are then distributed among the population – despite an acknowledgement that the Faroe health authority advises against its consumption.

A Toxic “Delicacy“

Since 1998, OceanCare has examined the pollutant concentration in whale meat. The results are alarming, such that the meat should be considered hazardous waste. As an example: the WHO recommends a safety limit for mercury of 0.1 micrograms per kilogram of body weight. One gram of pilot whale meat contains an average of 2 micrograms of mercury. Therefore, a person weighing 70 kilograms may only eat 3.5 grams of whale meat per day. However, in 2010, for example, 540 tonnes of whale meat was caught on the Faroe Islands – which equals around 11 kilograms for every Faroese citizen including small children and babies!

2013 Whale Hunt in the Faroe Islands Completely Dismaying

No single whale hunt had occurred until mid-July, but then matters became particularly violent . After the first grind that had taken place on 22 July, where 125 pilot whales were killed, the hunt culminated on 30 July in the biggest “grindadráp” in eight years. 267 pilot whales were driven by local residents and ‘helpers’ – who had hurried to the scene – into the Bay of Fuglafjørður and were slaughtered.

Then on 13 August 2013, a big day of misfortune was looming. 135 of the toothed whales (which can grow up to six meters long) were killed in a small bay near the fishing village Húsavík. And, further, by the evening of the same black day, inhabitants of the island Suðuroy would kill 430 Atlantic white side dolphins. A total of 565 dolphins (pilot whales are members of the dolphin species) were cruelly slaughtered in a single day. Such a sad record has not occurred for 19 years. In addition, 180 pilot whales were killed in three other hunts. Thus, a total of 1,136 dolphins have been killed in 2013 within less than 2 months at the Faroe Islands.

Critical voices are rising

OceanCare has raised concern with respect to these cruel and unsustainable whale hunts in international conferences. So far, however, governmental officials of the Faroe Islands are immune to criticism. OceanCare is nonetheless bringing this huge problem to the public’s attention and is supporting the anti-whaling movement at a domestic level with Faroese citizens. Critical voices, especially among the younger generation of Faroese, are increasing gradually.