Small whale and dolphin hunts in the Faroe Islands

In the waters surrounding a remote archipelago half way between Iceland and Norway and 200 miles north north-west of Scotland, one of the most infamous slaughters of small whales and dolphins in the North Atlantic takes place on an annual basis.

Every year, in the waters surrounding a remote group of islands 200 miles north north-west of Scotland, one of the most infamous slaughters of small whales and dolphins takes place.

The Faroe Islands (a semi-autonomous country of the Kingdom of Denmark) have a long tradition of hunting small whales and dolphins, with records dating back to 1584.

When sighted, entire family groups (mostly of long-finned pilot whales), are herded and driven to shore where they face a painful and lingering death. Blunt-ended metal hooks are sunk into their blowholes, then they are dragged up the beach and their spinal columns severed with knives. Their cries pierce the air, calves call out for their mothers. But not a single whale escapes the cruel fate that awaits them on a Faroese beach.

The main target is the long-finned pilot whale, but Atlantic white-sided dolphin are also taken. Northern bottlenose whales that strand also end up on the dinner plate and the smallest of them all, the harbour porpoise, is also subject to slaughter. But for them no numbers are recorded. They at least avoid the hooks and knives, as the only way they’re allowed to be killed is by shotgun.

This annual hunt is known as the ‘Grindadráp’. The claim is that hunts are non-commercial, undertaken by communities who share the bounty. But there is evidence of meat and blubber for sale in supermarkets and restaurants across the islands. Over the last 20 years, almost 20,000 small whales and dolphins have been killed in the ‘grinds’. With no official quotas in place, the islanders are free to take as many as they want.

Facts about the Faroese hunts

  • The ‘grind’ is a distressing hunt that can last for hours, and from which no whale ever escapes- whole pods/family groups are routinely wiped out
  • Over 20,000 whales and dolphins have been slaughtered over the last 20 years
  • Eating the meat and blubber is a proven health hazard
  • We do not know the conservation impacts of the hunt
  • Change is happening in Faroese society, albeit slowly
Long-finned pilot whale

A threat to whales... and humans

In response to global criticism legislation has been brought in however this only states that hunters must receive appropriate training. Few studies on the target species have ever been conducted and the sustainability of the hunts is a major conservation concern.

The concern is not just for the small whales and dolphins but also for the Faroese people. Long-finned pilot whales carry high levels of mercury and persistent organic compounds in their meat and blubber. Long term independent studies of children in the Faroe Islands have directly linked neurological delays, cardiovascular problems and other development problems to their mothers’ pre-natal consumption of whale meat. In addition, recent studies show a direct link between the occurrence of Parkinson’s disease, hypertension and arteriosclerosis of the carotid arteries in Faroese adults and the eating of pilot whale meat.

Progress is painfully slow. The Faroese authorities first issued an advisory notice back in 2008, warning vulnerable consumers (such as pregnant and nursing women) to eat less whale meat and the Health Minister stopped whale meat being offered in hospitals.

In 2012, Pál Weihe and Høgni Debes Joensen of the Faroese Department of Occupational Medicine and Public Health formally recommended that pilot whale should no longer be eaten.

Despite this, the hunts, and consumption continue.

WDC has been active in trying to stop these hunts and prevent the Faroe Islands from resuming commercial whaling and international trade in whale meat. We will not pretend our task is simple. Whaling is a long tradition of this remote and proud community but traditions should and do evolve over time.

WDC will not give up until the hunting of small whales and dolphins in the north Atlantic is consigned to history and Faroese children can eat safely. WDC is working alongside local Faroese opposed to the hunts and supporting grassroots educational activities on the ground.

Small cetacean report

SMALL CETACEANS, BIG PROBLEMS

A global review of the impacts of hunting on small whales, dolphins and porpoises.

Read our in-depth report into the hunting of small whales and dolphins around the world (published in 2018).

Download the PDF.

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