Featured Image Credit: Sea Shepherd Global
The mass slaughtering of more than 500 whales and dolphins during a recent series of whale hunts was captured on camera in the Faroe Islands. The pictures of blood-soaked waters and piles of dead animal carcasses have caused an uproar in the animal activist community.
The pictures were taken by volunteers from the ocean conservation group Sea Shepherd Global posing as tourists on the Danish archipelago nestled between Norway and Iceland. These self-governing groups of islands are not part of the European Union, therefore the whaling bans do not apply to them. According to Sea Shepherd U.K. Director Rob Read, the group of 18 volunteers aimed to expose “the continued barbaric killing of dolphins and pilot whales by the Faroese.”
Nine separate hunts were documented by the Sea Shepherd Global team, accounting for the deaths of 198 Atlantic white-sided dolphins and 436 pilot whales. During a hunt, herds of pilot whales are lured into shallow waters and killed instantly with a ‘spinal lance’ inserted through the animal’s neck, breaking its spinal cord. This method was developed by a veterinarian to ensure a quick kill. Typically, an entire pod of whales can be killed in 15 minutes using the technique.
One volunteer described this nightmarish scene saying, “As the pilot whales were driven to the shoreline by the small boats the intensity of the thrashing bodies grew. Hooks were sunk into the blowholes and the whales were dragged onto the shore in a sadistic game of ‘Tug of War.’” Witnesses also saw whales bashing their heads against stones in a final attempt to escape. One onlooker described an eerie sight stating, “We recorded children attempting to remove the teeth of several whales with nothing more than a pocket knife as well as removing slices of what appeared to be a tumor on one whale.”
These legal, annual hunts are carried out over a 10-week period from July to early September, dating back to the 16th century. The hunts, referred to as grindadrap to the Faroese locals, provide several hundred kilos of meat and blubber to the surrounding communities. The meat of pilot whales has been a valued part of the Faroes’ national diet for centuries.
Faroese authorities argue for the continuation of the hunts claiming it a sustainable act, “The long-term annual average catch of pilot whales in the Faroe Islands represent less than 1% of the total estimated stock.” The catches are shared without the participants and residents exchanging money. Without this source of food, the Islands would have to have food imported from abroad, diminishing their self-sufficiency.
About 1,700 pilot whales and white-sided dolphins have been caught in the Faroe Islands this year. Official statistics show that 295 pilot whales were killed last year and 501 in 2015. The hunts are allowed any time of the year as long as the species are not endangered. The Faroe government voiced the importance of these hunts to the community saying, “In the Faroe Islands it is considered both economic and environmental good sense to make the most of locally available natural resources, and to maintain the knowledge required to use what nature can provide.”
Activists have been urging the European Union to increase efforts against Denmark to bring an end to the Faroe Island’ whale hunts.