Pilot Whale Hunt in the Faroe Islands
Faroe Island: The whale and dolphin hunt must end
OceanCare respects the traditions of different cultures. However, what happened in the Faroe Islands, cannot be justified by just pointing to tradition. The mass killing of whales and dolphins violates the principles of animal and species protection and is ethically unacceptable. Now, with a hunt for white-sided dolphins in September 2021, the Faroese have massively overdone it.
On the 12th of September 2021, Skalafjörður, a fjord in the east of the archipelago, was the scene of a mass killing, the scale of which is glaring even by Faroese standards: at least 1,428 adult white-sided dolphins and dozens of juveniles were killed.
The hunters used boats to drive the dolphins ashore, where they stranded and were brought down with knives and lances. What an unimaginable horror did the still-living animals have to experience while one conspecific after the other was killed until their turn came.
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.
Against reason – and against international rules
The images caused shock all over the world. Even many Faroese are dismayed, though their criticism focuses on the huge number of animals killed and whether there were enough experienced hunters present. The Faroese prime minister announced that the regulations on the hunt for Atlantic white-sided dolphins would be reviewed.
OceanCare finds it an intolerable provocation that only ten days later, 52 pilot whales were killed in another cove.
The facts, however, are clear, as OceanCare points out: According to the EU’s Habitats Directive, white-sided dolphins and pilot whales are strictly protected and the European Union prohibits the deliberate killing of all whales and dolphins. Although the Faroe Islands, as an autonomous region of Denmark, are not part of the EU, they are expected to respect the Union’s species conservation rules and not wilfully undermine them. Hunting whales also contradicts the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.
OceanCare calls for action
In the 2021 report “Under Pressure”, OceanCare shows how dire the situation is for whales and dolphins in European waters. On this basis, we call on the EU Commission and EU Member States to urge the governments of the Faroe Islands and Denmark to end cetacean hunting. Furthermore, OceanCare advocates for the extension of the international whaling ban to small cetaceans.
This mass killing of white-sided dolphins has to mark a turning point. OceanCare therefore also calls on civil society to raise their voice to EU decision makers via our petition.
In the Faroe Islands, which are situated some 200 miles to the north of Scotland, hunts for pilot whales and other dolphins go back to the 16th century. Between 2011 and 2020, 7,533 long-finned pilot whales, 1’204 Atlantic white sided dolphins, 21 Risso’s dolphins and 16 Common bottlenose dolphins were killed off the Faroes Islands.
The killed animals’ meat gets distributed among the population. In former times, it served for nutrition, while now it is a toxic “delicacy”: The mercury load of whale and dolphin flesh is so high that adults may eat no more than 3.5 grams per day without damaging their health. Faroese authorities in the past issued advice not to eat cetacean meat.
OceanCare has been supporting Faroese anti-whaling activists for many years, because a change of mind has to take place within the people themselves. Among younger locals, critical voices against cetacean hunting are increasing. This is encouraging.