In Denmark’s Faroe Islands, the centuries-old tradition of butchering whales was in full-swing last week as the waters off of Torshavn Bay were turned into a sea of deep red. Anywhere from 130-150 pilot whales and 10-20 white-sided dolphins were brutally killed in the annual mass hunt.
The summer slaughter brings the number of slaughtered sea mammals—or cetaceans—to about 500 as of this year—par for the course in an old tradition dubbed Grindadráp by the local Danish community.
Around 800 whales are killed annually by the people of the Faroe Islands to satisfy the historical natural diet of local denizens who subsist on the meat and blubber of the sea mammals. Each whale provides several hundred kilos of meat to locals, whose hunting exercises are communal activities where catches are shared among locals without any sort of cash exchange, according to Condé Nast Traveller magazine.
The Kingdom of Denmark’s foreign affairs and trade ministry spokesman Páll Nolsøe told Metro UK:
“Whaling is a natural part of Faroese life. It has long since been internationally recognized that pilot whale catches in the Faroe Islands are fully sustainable.”
Indeed, the tradition is an example of locals subsisting on local wildlife rather than the capital-intensive industrial agriculture and factory farm-sourced foodstuffs that most Europeans rely on.
The practice entails boats enclosing whales who venture close to the bay, after which they are herded toward land where they are beached and killed. Hooks are inserted into the whales’ blowholes to haul them onshore, after which spinal lances are used to pierce the neck and sever the spinal cord, ending all blood flow to the brain. Within seconds, the whale is dead. An entire pod of whales can be killed in less than ten minutes, especially since the entire community is on-hand to assist in the slaughter.
Tradition aside, campaigners have reacted to graphic imagery of the hunt by calling for a ban on hunting dolphins and small whales in countries where the tradition is widespread, with groups like The Blue Planet Society starting petitions aiming to outlaw the practice in Japan and the Faroe Islands.
Locals continue to defend the right of their community to continue the tradition, as is clear on the tourist website Visit Faroe Islands, which reads:
“The Faroese have eaten pilot whale meat and blubber since they first settled the islands over a century ago.
Today, as in times past, the whale drive is a community activity open to all, while also well organised on a community level and regulated by national laws.
Records of all pilot whale hunts have been kept since 1584 and the practice is deemed sustainable, as there an estimated 778,000 whale in the eastern North Atlantic region.
Approximately 100,000 swim close to the Faroe Islands, and the Faroese hunt an average 800 pilot whales annually.
The meat and blubber from the hunt is distributed equally among those who have participated.”
The whale catches are also strictly recorded and regulated by authorities, who insist that the events aren’t cruel and that international law allows for the practice to take place. Since 1584, an estimated 2,000 whale catches have taken part in the Danish archipelago.
The official Whaling website explains:
“Scientists estimate that the pilot whale population in the eastern North Atlantic is about 778,000 whales, with approximately 100,000 around the Faroe Islands. The Faroese hunt on average 800 pilot whales annually.”
Yet public health authorities have also warned that the high levels of mercury and persistent organic pollutants render the meat a health hazard and risk to the intellectual and neurological development of those who consume it. The toxic content of the meat, released by industry into the environment and subsequently ending up in the whales, may provide the most compelling argument against the continuation of the centuries-old whaling practice in Denmark.