The Plight of the Pilot Whales: Murder in the Faroe Islands

‘Blackfish’ highlighted the issue of captivity, ‘The Cove’ showed the brutality of the Taiji dolphin drive but to us here in Europe these can seem quite far away. However, on a small island above the UK equally horrifying events take place a lot closer to home; the annual grind of the Faroe Islands.

Dating back to the 16th century, the hunt sees over 800 pilot whales killed each year and with the current death toll standing at 901 and set to rise, it’s clear that this year is no different. Each hunt is conducted in a horrific and brutal manner that quite obviously causes the whales a lot of pain and yet still the Faroese defend their actions. Spotters are sent out to look for pods and once identified, the islanders are then informed and the whales are driven towards the shore where they are then beached. Those who don’t beach themselves are pulled ashore by their blowholes where they  join the others and are then killed via a cut to their spinal cords. Now it’s pretty clear the distress this would cause, after all think about how frightened you would be if you were gathered together, dragged around with a hook in your airways and then be sliced open. To think of a human being attacked in this manner is horrendous and yet when another mammal goes through it, there just isn’t the same reaction.

It’s a fact that culture and tradition make the world such a rich and exciting place, but perhaps there should be some restrictions when it comes to tradition and animals. The Faroese have practiced this form of hunting for hundreds of years and although it does unite a community, they are united by pain and suffering. Yes they uphold ancestral activities and yes they do come together, something that is often lost in the land of technology and social media, but shouldn’t there be a way of doing this without the inevitable agony?  And is the hunt even necessary anymore?

In the past, the Faroese hunted whales for food as the rough island terrain meant that they were unable to grow anything well but nowadays when the islands depend on fish imports, the whole process seems to be becoming less relevant to survival. Not only that, it has been proven that the meat itself contains a considerable amount of toxins including mercury which can then lead to various health problems from cancer to infertility. It’s recommended that less than 200g of whale meat a week should be consumed by men and that women and children should not eat any at all so surely if nothing else, this proves that the grind is no more a source of food than a cruel blood soaked tradition.

Another painful element of the drive is the fact that up until now anybody has been able to take part in the drive, even those who have no idea what to do. They may have been spectators in previous years and may have read about it but when it comes to doing it, they are simply not prepared. The average length of time it takes for a pilot whale to die is 30 seconds, a very long time when you’re in absolute agony and can last up to a few minutes. It’s inevitable that with inexperienced people, this time is most definitely going to increase and cause even more distress to the whales and their families who will most certainly be suffering near by. Thankfully, the Minister of Fisheries in the Faeroe Islands has now stated that as of May 2015, those taking part in the grind will now be required to take part in a course and obtain the pass certificate at the end of it. This may not necessarily be a ban on whale drives but there is the chance that it could be the start of their end. According to EarthRace representative Runi Nielson, “A large majority of the participants in the grinds who at the moment just show up and take part, will not bother to take these mandatory courses and by doing so will exclude themselves. The fewer people taking part, the less a part of the Faroese way of life the grinds will become.” Let’s just hope this is the case and that some time in the near future, there will be an end to the pain of the pilot whales.

It’s important to keep an open mind about issues and balance each side but it’s also important to know what is right and what is clearly wrong. To use that fact that the pilot whale is not an endangered species should not be a relevant argument; humans aren’t endangered species but if a group of people decided that they wanted to round up a few hundred families every year and kill them, there would definitely be a lot more to say about it. It’s not just pilot whales being affected by this either as it’s legal for them to kill white-sided dolphins, harbour porpoises and bottle nosed dolphins as well: in August this year 430 white sided dolphins were killed. More cetaceans who are subjected to torture. It’s time that this cruelty came to an end.

If this hasn’t managed to convince you of the plight of the pilot whales, take a look at this video and see the panic and pain they suffer for yourself.

Help to end the Faroe Island grinds by signing the petition here.

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