Every year in the Faroe Islands there is a slaughter in which hundreds, thousands of whales are killed! People bestially kill innocent animals, walk up to their armpits in water full of blood and dead animals, all just for entertainment.
You have probably received a similar message from the media. Ba, many people first heard about the Faroe Islands just through the coverage of those traditional whales hunts that take place annually off the Faroese coast.
Have you ever wondered why they do this and how many of these messages are truthful? How many animals die off the coast of the Faroe Islands? Are really all Farerians people who just kill animals for pleasure and to cultivate traditions? Or perhaps it’s worth asking another question: how are they different from pork chop eaters? Aside from the fact that they get the meat themselves, and we cultured, empathetic people get it while hunting for packages of chicken fillets?
Please note, the following post is not intended to stand in defense of this tradition. We have not seen a live grindadráp, and the following is just our thoughts, after reading many sources and descriptions of this hunt. We do not defend and absolutely do not approve of what is happening in Faroe, but we are interested in showing a different perspective, which often does not reach in the messages (or maybe we deliberately do not want to read about it?). So before you comment please read the text carefully to the very end.
Table of contents
Media vs. reality
Why are we even bringing up this topic? Above all, it hurts to shuffle and generalize. Just read a few articles from popular portals about Grindadráp, and then go down to the comments section. What will we see there? “Murderers, barbarians, bastards, monsters, sadists. I will never go to Denmark/Faroe Islands again. Sick country. And supposedly Europe is a civilized region.”
Yes! Let’s boycott this country, let’s never fly there, let them have their way. Button :-P Tourism is not such a strong industry for the Faroe Islands to make them move away from this custom. Perhaps it is worth considering instead how to approach the problem differently? Why do Farerians defend their own at all costs?
So how much truth is there in these media reports? We should remember that the media like to exaggerate tragedies and present the picture in such a way as to move the viewer. Examples? Take, for example, the recent transmissions from Isreal, where we see excerpts from the riots on TV and online portals. However, the media no longer show that a few steps away are peaceful and safe groups of tourists. No one felt directly threatened. Although (probably influenced by media coverage) even the Foreign Ministry issued warnings, but these were quickly reviewed and corrected.
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Another example, this time from our experience: Athens and Greece’s economic crisis. We were in Athens at the “worst” time – the media outdid themselves with reports of protests, riots, brawls and advised against going to this city. How was it in reality? There were protests, people took to the streets, but it was all controlled by the police and military. The tourists had separate zones where they could move freely, and we felt safe even passing between the tents of the protesters…. because what else would happen if a tourist’s hair fell off his head?
Anyway… have you heard about the slaughter of dolphins in Japan or whales in Norway? In the latter case, several hundred animals are killed annually (and the government increased the limit to almost 1,000 individuals in 2017)! And that’s just for profit
[source1], [source2], [source3].
. Haven’t you heard about it? No wonder, after all, it takes place far from the shore and you can’t see people killing animals. We have yet to meet anyone who associates Norway, which is a “leader” when it comes to killing whales, with this very practice…. whereas the Faroe Islands do.
So let’s go back to Faroe. Islanders live in small communities where everyone knows everyone else, which gives them a sense of security and attachment to the community. They serve each other and attach great importance to the social ties and traditions they cultivate, for many years. Closed and isolated groups lived on their own in the way they wanted, according to the rules imposed by the local community. It also means that they were a big family that lived together and together got the food they needed to survive. In the Faroe Islands, conditions for farming were (and are) poor so it’s not surprising that the diet was based on what could be hunted or caught.
That’s how it used to be, when food wasn’t as common and readily available as it is now. Nowadays, there are stores in Faroje where you can get many products, but that doesn’t mean there is a store or bakery in every village. Often, in order to shop, you have to leave your locality, and remember that prices are not among the lowest (in fact, they are among the highest).
Where is Grindadráp in all this? This is part of a tradition that has been so strongly cultivated from grandfather great-grandfather (dating back to Viking times). A tradition that served to gain food and divide among the population. Nor should the point be passed over that hunting cetaceans was also an opportunity for young boys to prove that they were already men. This has been going on for hundreds of years, and now all of a sudden there are animal rights activists, environmentalists and pressure from countries that have never before been interested in the Faroe Islands to stop this bloody practice. Would you be eager and willing to cooperate? To the discontinuation of something that is so deeply rooted in Faroese culture and history, something to look forward to all year long, something to provide food for hundreds of people?
This is so in a word to introduce the Farer perspective. What if we were suddenly forced to stop eating carp on Christmas Eve? Would we abandon this tradition without a problem? And in the case of cetaceans and in the case of carp, an animal, a living organism, is killed.
Grindadráp is a hunt for whales – cetaceans from the dolphin family. The species is not threatened with extinction.
The graphic below shows the population and number of whales killed annually just around Iceland and the Faroe Islands, prepared by the Faroese Pilot Whalers’ Association [source]:
However, the above graphic omits one important data: the number of animals that die naturally or from other causes
. It is therefore incorrect to assume that there are 3,040 young whales every year that will live to the age where they can sire another young. Especially when you consider the number of animals killed off the Faroese coast in the last year, but about that in a moment.
Looking at the whales population more broadly, there are about 1,500,000 whales swimming in the oceans, of which about 900,000 – 1,000,000 are longfinned whales , and about 200,000, and according to other sources as many as 600,000 are shortfinned whales [source1], [ source2], [ source3], [source4 ], [source5]..
Only a species of long-finned gindwall can be found around the Faroe Islands. In the northeastern part of the Atlantic, it is estimated that their number is about 750,000
, and around the Faroe Islands 100,000 – 120,000.
How many whales a year lose their lives during these hunts? Depending on the source, it is up to about 1,300 individuals [source1], [source2]..
The Faroe Islands have kept an official census of the number of animals killed since 1584, and it shows that in 2013. 1,524 animals were killed, in 2014. – 53, in 2015. – 510, in 2016. – 296, and in 2017. – As many as 1691!
. At the same time, it should be noted that the victims were not only whales, but also bottlenose dolphins, white-beaked dolphins and porpoises.
Counting about 1,000 whales kills per year around the Faroe Islands, this is approx. 0.1% of the population, which does not threaten the species [source.]. This is a fact, not our acquiescence to the killing of animals that are not endangered.
The numbers are shocking. Especially the latter. There were many hunts in 2017, surprisingly even two during our stay in the Faroe Islands, one of them in the capital, where we stayed overnight. To be honest, two hunts were held during 1 week, and there was silence about it in the local media and newspapers. However, was there an attempt to conceal this fact?
What does the hunt look like?
When whales swim in whole herds around the Faroe Islands (most often July-August, but it also happens in May, June, September and even October, such as in 2017), fishermen try to chase as many cetaceans as possible into the bays, into shallow waters. Dozens of people are already waiting on the shore to throw themselves into the water and kill the animals. The very method of killing under external pressure was changed so that the animal suffered as briefly as possible (cutting the spinal cord) – the use of sharp hooks, harpoons and spears was abandoned
The sight, however, is horrifying – people, walking in the blood-red water are killing cetaceans one by one, and all the residents (including small children) are watching from the shore.
What happens next? Meat harvested in the course of the hunt is written down, weighed and distributed to local residents. No one sells it, you won’t find it in stores (but in restaurants you will). It is therefore intended entirely as food.
I’ll say it again: we DO NOT SUPPORT this tradition, but it’s worth looking at it from the other side.
You’re probably thinking now that at a time when meat is widely available, after all, there is no need for such carnage…. hola, and do you know where the meat in the store comes from?
We are outraged by the killing of animals when we can see them, when blood is being shed, when we can hear the screeching of animals struggling for life, and we are not outraged by how animals are kept in mass farms, only to eventually end up on a plate. They will never have the opportunity to see daylight, walk a few kilometers, or get food on their own.
It may sound brutal, but at least these cetaceans have experienced some freedom, while pigs, cows or chickens have not even had the opportunity to experience this.
A very interesting comparison was made with the life of an example pig, where you can see how the pig and the whales “enjoy” life [source].:
Is Grindadráp worse than mass breeding of animals just for profit? It can be worse for two reasons: first, because you can see what is happening, you can see the blood, the suffering of the animals. You can see what killing animals is. However, blood is pouring, not surprisingly, since a live animal is being killed. And, since the animal weighs 3-3.5 tons, let no one be surprised that there is a lot more blood than after killing a carp. Second, cetaceans get away with being very intelligent animals, but according to us, an animal is an animal, whether it’s a dolphin, a pig or a turkey – everyone suffers. However, it is easier to see the fault in others and not in oneself.
Well, let’s focus on those “others.” What does the future look like for the whales, who unknowingly swim close to the Faroese coastline that is so dangerous for them?
One gets the impression that the greater the pressure on the community, the stronger the defensive posture. An example is the law that prohibits obstructing the Grindadráp, which was broken by Sea Shepherd representatives when they tried to disrupt the hunt (so the police were able to cuff them and take them away from the hunting site, and they were later fined). The Fareris strongly defend their opinion and will not let their right to hunt be taken away so easily. You can see their campaign, iconography defending this right, for example, here.
On the other hand, however, there are voices of reason from residents. Progress can be seen in access to information and research, resulting in slow compliance with the official recommendation of nutritionists that Faroese residents limit their consumption of cetacean meat for health reasons
. Information is being passed around about the harmfulness of whales meat, due to its high toxin content.
There is also less demand for meat as evidenced by unclaimed meat allotments, and many young people wouldn’t mind stopping this tradition [source]..
Regulations on the very way animals are killed have been changed to reduce their suffering.
This is gratifying, but it should be remembered that with such a deeply rooted tradition, it may not be enough.
p.s.: The organization that fights whales hunting the most is Sea Shepherd, which has released videos of hunting in the Faroe Islands.
p.s.2: If you want to sign a petition in defense of whales killed by Norwegians, you can do so here.
See also 20 interesting facts about the Faroe Islands.
By EileenSanda (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons