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Faroe Islands to evaluate traditional hunt after slaughter of 1,400 dolphins

Atlantic white-sided dolphins killed during a recent hunt on Sept. 12. Image by Sea Shepherd.

  • The killing of 1,428 Atlantic white-sided dolphins in the Faroe Islands has sparked outrage among local people and attracted international criticism over the legitimacy of such hunts.
  • The hunt was reportedly unauthorized and in violation of local Faroese law.
  • In response, the Faroese prime minister announced that the government will evaluate the recent dolphin hunt as well as the tradition’s place in society.

The recent killing of 1,428 white dolphins in the Faroe Islands has brought renewed scrutiny to the island nation’s long-held tradition of driving cetaceans into shore and butchering them for their meat. Less than a week after the controversial hunt, Faroese Prime Minister Bárður á Steig Nielsen called for an official evaluation of the hunt.

The hunt in question happened on Sept. 12 in the Eysturoy region of the Faroe Islands, a Danish territory north of Scotland. After spotting a large pod of Atlantic white-sided dolphins (Lagenorhynchus acutus) off the coast of Eysturoy, locals used motorboats to drive the animals toward Skalabotnur Beach and then killed them with knives.

This hunt was the largest in recent history in the Faroe Islands, according to locals as well as activists close to the issue. Previous hunts — known locally as “grinds,” which is short for grindadráp in Faroese — have generally targeted pilot whales (Globicephala spp.) in pods ranging from a few hundred to about a thousand.

Valentina Crast, an activist with Sea Shepherd, a group that has been campaigning against the Faroese cetacean hunts since the 1980s, says these hunts are a relic of the past and have no place in modern society. She said this hunt was particularly brutal since there weren’t enough people taking part and that, as a result, most of the dolphins ended up dying inhumanely.

“It was just horrendous,” Crast told Mongabay in a Zoom interview. “We documented a lot of them not being killed properly. So while they were thrown onto the beach, left for dead, they were still alive. They were thrashing. And because these animals can’t scream or express their pain, we confuse that with [them not experiencing pain].”

Several of the Atlantic white-sided dolphins killed in the recent hunt in the Faroe Islands. Image by Sea Shepherd.

According to local media reports, the hunt was not authorized. Heri Petersen, the foreman responsible for approving any hunts that take place in Eysturoy, told local news outlet that he was not notified about the hunt and therefore did not approve it.

“I’m angry about this and I distance myself from it greatly,” Petersen said.

Not seeking permission from the correct foreman is a violation of a local Faroese “grind law,” Crast said.

Many locals people have expressed their dismay with the hunt, although not everyone seems comfortable expressing their opinions in public.

Bára Olsen (not her real name), a local woman from the Faroe Islands who only recently began opposing the hunts for animal rights reasons, told Mongabay that she was shocked by the recent event.

“What happened on Sunday was absolutely horrible,” Olsen told Mongabay in a phone interview. “There’s huge outrage at the moment about this dolphin slaughter. I’ve never seen anything like it, actually.”

Another Faroese local, Johan Andreasen (not his real name), told Mongabay that he does not oppose the hunting of pilot whales and has even taken part in previous hunts — but that he did not condone this recent dolphin hunt.

“It’s not the way we do it,” he told Mongabay in a phone call. “It’s never been the way we do it. We never take 1,400 whales at one time.

“At least 200 to 300 whales had beached themselves completely up onto the beach, and instead of going for those whales, the hunters were actually swimming out, getting the ones that were swimming around,” Andreasen added. “That consumes time. And when the whales lay up on the beach … the pressure from them lying down on the sand will push up against their lungs, and that is also very inhumane to let them lie there that long without killing them right away.”

White-sided dolphins floating in blood filled water after the hunt on September 12. Image by Sea Shepherd.

In response to the furor, Prime Minister Bárður á Steig Nielsen said on Sept. 16 that the government would be evaluating the recent hunt.

“We take this matter very seriously,” Nielsen said in a statement. “Although these hunts are considered sustainable, we will be looking closely at the dolphin hunts, and what part they should play in Faroese society. The government has decided to start an evaluation of the regulations on the catching of Atlantic white-sided dolphins.”

On the other hand, Jacob Vestergaard, the Faroese minister of fisheries, previously said he believed the hunt had been properly conducted.

“As I have been informed, every single animal has been killed in a responsible way,” Vestergaard told the Faroese news station Kringvarp Føroya.

Fabienne McLellan, co-director of international relations at Swiss NGO OceanCare, said she respected and appreciated the news that the Faroese prime minister will be assessing the recent hunt, but that it is still not clear “what it actually means.”

“We are of the opinion that such review should be extended to the general practice of the grind,” she told Mongabay in an email, “as well as an investigation into the grind from September 12th shall be part of this process.”

Crast of Sea Shepherd said she hopes the international attention on this issue will help put a stop to these traditional hunts.

“This time the Faroese community in itself are so angry,” she said. “They’re pushing this on their own, there’s a big debate [among] themselves. And I’m hoping that will be enough to get politicians to take action.”

Banner image caption: Atlantic white-sided dolphins killed during a recent hunt on Sept. 12. Image by Sea Shepherd.

Elizabeth Claire Alberts is a staff writer for Mongabay. Follow her on Twitter @ECAlberts.

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