Home Wildlife Faroe Islands Begin ‘Horrifically Cruel’ Whale Hunts

Faroe Islands Begin ‘Horrifically Cruel’ Whale Hunts

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Faroe Islands Begin ‘Horrifically Cruel’ Whale Hunts

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The Faroe Islands have begun a “horrifically cruel” whale hunt with dozens of pilot whales already having been killed this season.

More than 60 pilot whales—the largest member of the dolphin family—were killed during two hunts that took place in the Atlantic Ocean off the Danish territory, between May 8 and May 15, Euro News reported.

The whaling season in the Faroe Islands usually kicks off in the summer months but hunts can happen year round. The hunt is a tradition that dates back around 1,200 years, when people would hunt dolphins and whales during times of famine.

Several dolphin species, including pilot whales and white sided dolphins, are still killed each year for their blubber and meat.

Ocean conservation and welfare groups have long been campaigning for an end to the hunt, called the grindadrap, deeming it cruel and unnecessary.

“There has been some small progress, the Faroe Islands have limited the number of dolphins that can be hunted. This horrifically cruel hunt could be stopped tomorrow with appropriate pressure applied by the EU, Denmark and U.K.,” John Hourston, founder of global pressure group Blue Planet Society told Newsweek.

Pilot whales are a protected species in the EU and U.K.

“I would say lack of sufficient international political pressure is the main reason the archaic grindadrap continues,” Hourston said. “Campaigning by environmental groups is highly effective at bringing awareness to the issue, and this should lead to action by politicians.”

The whaling has for centuries been an integral part of Faroese society and food culture. In the Faroe Islands pilot whales and other small cetaceans represent one of the few local sources of meat that does not have to be imported from afar. The meat and blubber from each whale drive provides valuable food with a low carbon footprint, which is distributed for free in the local communities where the whale drives take place.

A spokesperson for the Faroese government told Newsweek: “In the Faroe Islands we considered it both economically and environmentally responsible to make the most of local natural resources, including whales, and to maintain the knowledge required to make use of what nature provides in a harsh oceanic environment. Whale drives in the Faroe Islands are organized on a community basis and regulated by national law. Individual animals must be killed as quickly as possible, in accordance with Faroese animal welfare legislation.”

More attention has been placed on the controversial hunt in recent years after an especially high number of pilot whales were killed in September 2021. It was found that 1,423 dolphins were killed in just one hunt, prompting the Faroese government to launch a review.

The government then announced an annual catch limit of 500 dolphins. Animal rights campaigners are unimpressed with the decision and believe the hunting should be banned altogether.

“This level of cruelty to highly intelligent mammals, in a climate and biodiversity crisis, is totally unacceptable in this day and age,” Hourston said. “There’s simply no need for it. The Faroe Islands have an average wage of about $60,000, a dozen well-stocked supermarkets, and globalized supply chains.

“There can be hunts at any time of year, but generally most of the killing takes place in the summer. We can only hope for some bad weather in that region, to keep the slaughter to a minimum.”

The Blue Planet Society has launched an online petition asking for an end to the hunting of dolphins and small whales.

The petition asks Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida and Aksel V. Johannesen, Prime Minister of the Faroe Islands, to “stop the hunt of EU/U.K. protected dolphins and small whales.” Hunts for dolphins also occur in Japan on a yearly basis.

As of May 24, more than 640,000 people have signed the petition. Its target is 1 million.

Despite outrage from animal rights groups, the Faroese government still deems that the hunt is sustainable.

While many claim the method used to kill the pilot whales is inhumane, it said it actually ensures death within seconds, so the animal does not suffer.

“The spinal lance, designed by a Faroese veterinarian, was introduced in 2015 and is now required equipment for the killing of pilot whales,” the spokesperson told Newsweek. “The lance is used to sever the spinal cord of the whale, which also severs the major blood supply to the brain, ensuring both loss of consciousness and death of the animal within seconds. The spinal lance has been shown to reduce killing time to one to two seconds, while also improving accuracy and safety. Normally, an entire pod of whales is killed in less than 15 minutes.”

This article by Robyn White was first published by Newsweek on 24 May 2023. Lead Image: A photo shows people gathering in front of the sea during a pilot whale hunt in Torshavn in the Faroe Islands on May 29, 2019. The Faroe Islands have begun a “horrifically cruel” whale hunt with dozens of pilot whales already having been killed this season. ANDRIJA ILIC / CONTRIBUTOR/GETTY.


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