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The Longest Days

Hans Peter Roth, an independent Swiss journalist who is conducting outreach in the Faroes in collaboration with WDC, shares his perspectives through another blog.

Monday June 24th, 2013     

Slættaratindur is a lonely place. Yet it is hardly ever silent on the Faroes’ highest mountain. Storms roar and oftentimes the subarctic peak sticks into the clouds. Once a year it becomes particularly vivid–from June 21st to 22nd –a night that´s not a night. Traditionally hundreds of Faroese will climb the 882 meters high mountain to celebrate the summer solstice.

They are quite lucky. There is no storm, just strong winds; yes, there is fog on the peak. But just slightly below, the view is fair and towards the Northern horizon a golden glow shines into a mystical atmosphere of dusk and dawn at the same time. Midnight… Soon the sun will rise again.   The locals cling to such traditions. And for many, the pilot whale hunt remains one of them to present days. If schools of pilot whales appear close enough to Faroese shores, quite likely this will be their downfall. The locals will be informed by the Faroese radio network as to where the cetaceans are so they can go there with their boats instantly, in order to drive them into whichever nearest of 22 designated killing beaches on the islands.  

Now is the time of celebration, school prom, beginning of vacation, festivals, bright nights with little or no sleep. On many parties snacks of dried pilot whale meat will be served – a popular delicacy up to these days. However the younger generations refrain from it more and more. Hardly any young woman will touch it; especially if she is pregnant or wants to have children soon. Otherwise friends will warn her. This cetacean meat and blubber is simply too heavily contaminated with toxics, most of all Mercury and PCB’s. Nowadays this is common knowledge among the approximately 48,000 inhabitants on the Faroe Islands.  

Will the drive hunts therefore soon just be reduced to stories in Faroese history books? Perhaps – but it will still take some time. And could it be that the facts above are the reason there has not been a single grindadráp (grind) – this is the Faroese name for the cruel drive hunt – has taken place this year so far? Such an assumption is likely to be too optimistic.   All islanders we have met so far unanimously say there simply haven’t been any pilot whales spotted around the Faroe Islands so far. There is debate though why no pilot whales have approached the archipelago yet in 2013. Is it the polar ice shield and circumpolar gyre which affect the shifting patterns of the gulf stream and with it all the life and food it contains? Is it the weather? The winds?  Or the enormous amount of Mackerel presently swarming in Faroese waters, perhaps chasing away the squid, the pilot whales’ main food source, as a local suggests? Or all of the above?    

Well, these are all speculations or assumptions. The complexity of the many intertwining factors and connections is overwhelming, even for scientists and experts. It is too soon for any premature optimism. Now is the brightest time of year, with the best conditions for the grindadráp. And July and August – the months with the highest average hunting numbers – lie yet ahead.