POLL: Should the Faroe Islands’ whale slaughter be allowed to continue?

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The recent arrest of 14 volunteers working to stop in the North Atlantic Ocean’s Faroe Islands has focused a spotlight once again on a local tradition stretching back over a thousand years.

Six of the protesters were found guilty this week of interfering with the grindadráp, or grind, as these drive hunts are called, according to a statement released by the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society. The remaining eight will appear in court on September 25. The activist group often makes headlines for the confrontational tactics used by some of its members—such as ramming whaling ships in the ocean around Antarctica.

The organization’s campaign to end these hunts began in the 1980s, says Paul Watson, founder of Sea Shepherd, and won’t stop until the practice disappears.

During a grind, a flotilla of small boats drives whales or dolphins into a shallow bay where they can be easily killed with knives. Grinds are the longest continuously practiced and relatively unchanged whaling tradition in the world, says Russell Fielding, a geographer from the University of the South in Sewanee, Tennessee. He has studied the Faroe Island grinds since 2005.

Other cultures in the Arctic and Europe started whaling long before the Faroese, Fielding says. But they have either stopped or changed their techniques quite a bit.

Red with blood: Dead pilot whales float in the shallow water as a crowd of onlookers watches the rest of pod being brought in on Faroe Islands during the annual whale kill
Grisly custom: The participants of the hunt cut the trapped critters’ spinal cord, killing them instantly
Practical Purpose

Protests against a hunt that provides food and a sense of community for this semi-autonomous nation stir up strong feelings on both sides. “It [is] important for us to protect our ways,” says Bjarki Dalsgarŏ, a 28-year-old Faroese who has participated in grinds, in an email interview. He adds that the protests draw community members together to stand against “these people telling us how to do or not do things.”

“They do feel a real cultural attachment to [the grinds],” notes Fielding. “However, the Faroese are quick to point out that it is for food primarily.”

The meat can be boiled, broiled as a steak, or air-dried, says Dalsgarŏ. “Air-dried whale meat is quite common and is considered a bit of a delicacy,” he notes. It is usually eaten raw in thin slices. In his family, the blubber is eaten as a side, along with potatoes.

Recent concerns over heavy metal toxins in the meat and blubber have reduced their consumption somewhat, Fielding says. But even the head physician for the islands—a kind of “surgeon general”—says he’ll still eat it at weddings, Fielding adds. “It’s shifting from a full meal to more of a symbolic food.” (See “Toxins Accumulate in Arctic Peoples, Animals, Study Says.”)

Cultural phenomenon: The tradition of the Faroese whale hunt harks back to the 1500s
Community affair: Men and women perform the traditional whale kill chant and dance before slaughtering whales at the Seaman’s Day celebration in Klaksvík on August 21, 2010
Drive Hunts

The Faroese are opportunistic hunters who launch a grind only when specific conditions are met. The animals must be close to shore, near one of 23 beaches approved as a landing beach. The weather and currents have to be calm enough. And there have to be enough participants to crew the dozen or so powerboats required to drive the animals toward shore.

In some years, such as in 2008, conditions weren’t right and no whales were taken. But over the past three centuries, the Faroese have taken an average of 838 pilot whales and 75 dolphins each year, Fielding reported in a 2012 study.

He based that study on the islanders’ detailed records of every animal taken in every grind going back to 1709. (Spottier records go back to 1587.) The data include the species taken, the beach used, and how much meat and blubber the animals produced.

There’s no whaling “profession” on the islands, says Dalsgarŏ. Everyone has a regular day job, but if they’re available when the call goes out for a grind—usually over cell phones, the radio, or social media—then they’ll try to get to the water in time for the hunt.

The Faroese usually target long-finned pilot whales, says Fielding, although they will also take bottlenose dolphins, white-sided dolphins, and Risso’s dolphins. Risso’s dolphins are sometimes landed even though they aren’t on the Faroe government’s list of species approved for hunting.

None of the species are considered , although the International Union for Conservation of Nature lists long-finned pilot whales as “data deficient,” meaning there isn’t enough scientific evidence to judge the status of the North Atlantic population.

Set sail: Pilot whales surface as they are brought into a shallow bay in the town of Klaksvík. The men in the boats hit metal and wood against the hulls to scare the whales and move them closer to shore
Main course: The pilot whales’ meat and blubber is divided up between everyone in the community
An Equitable Share

Once the boats drive an animal onto an approved beach, people on shore go in with knives and cut through the pilot whale’s neck and break the spinal cord. Death occurs quickly, Fielding says, although there is debate as to exactly how long it takes.

“There’s a lot of blood,” he says, and waters in the bay quickly turn scarlet. “The first time I saw it, it was very hard to watch,” Fielding adds. The geographer, who is also a hunter, thinks that “people [get] so upset because they don’t often see animals being turned into food in any context.”

Once the animals are dead, the chief of police apportions the meat to people in the community using a traditional calculation. Villagers are responsible for butchering their own meat.

“That’s a skill that people are expected to have—the ability to cut up an animal into meat,” Fielding says. “It usually takes an hour or two for all the animals to get butchered.” Someone then takes the spinal cords and offal out into open water to dispose of them.

Fielding suspects health concerns are more likely than protests to drive down consumption of whale meat in the Faroes. The islanders feel strongly about the tradition, he says.

“I doubt you’ll experience the sense of community and teamwork anywhere else in the world,” says Dalsgarŏ. “Everyone comes together to help provide for the community and for themselves.”

Pilot Whale Slaughter, Faroe Islands June 5, 2012 from Viva Delfinus on Vimeo.

We invite you to vote FOR or AGAINST the continuation of the Faroe Islands’ . Please vote and also leave your comments at the bottom of this page.

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The editorial content of this article was first published by National Geographic on 11 Sep 2014.

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Catherine O Dowd

I voted no,why is the petition closed,it needs about 250 more signatures to reach the required 50.000

Andrea Louise Lovell


Eivind Lómstein Petersen

Michelle Gericke wauw. What a constructive and mature comment. You must feel really big and proud, wishing death upon people you dont even know.

And people wonder why we dont take you people serious…

Michelle Gericke

Eivind Lómstein Petersen You must have a teeny weeny brain and even teenier willy. You just don't get it. The best thing that could happen to you and your kind is one huge big barrel load of shot between your eyes.

Michelle Gericke

PS in Denmark if its not dog brothels they are running or entertaining their depraved population at zoos killing healthy young lion cubs and giraffe for fun and making a show to the public of dissecting them, its murdering these magnificent harmless and peaceful animals. DENMARK – SICK, SICK, SICK TO THE CORE. You can judge a country by the way they treat animals. BOYCOTTE DENMARK!

Michelle Gericke

There is no excuse for it, no rationale, no arguement. It is the brutal, cold blooded butchery of innocent, intelligent, harmless and defenseless animals that makes it abhorrent and morally reprehensible. Only a sick mind and soul could derive any pleasure, sense of accomplishment and excitement from such an act. Only a depraved society would support it. Eat f……ng vegetables and grains and find out what delicious is without terrorising, torturing and brutalising those who have as much right to be here as you (wrongly) have to be here, and who value their lives, their families and communities as much… Read more »

Michelle Gericke

Magnus Petersson

Mary Halsall

Stop! this barbaric slaughter & Ban! this vile killing in The Faroes!

Ber Gear

When they're all gone…then what will you kill, to show your..??…what, exactly, is it you're trying to show/prove by killing the whales & dolphins?? Your patronage to your country?? Community?? Your "manhood"?? Whatever "it" is–there aren't that many whales or dolphins left..You, Japan, Canada (fishermen here hate the dolphins/porpous because they eat all the fish)..other countries as well..so–thinking logically & rationally, how long before they're all gone..?? Not long now boys & girls..not long at all. What are you going to switch to killing then?–humans?? Maybe–those tourists over there..or, of last consideration–yourown young?? Killing "my relatives of the seas" has… Read more »

Jaklien Lammens

Stop the madness

Tina Davis

The vote say it all , such a cruel practice I could not watch the video as it was too upsetting what a heartbreaking sight

Marcia Sueosugi

They are mother fucked it's not human slaughtered whale for ear fuckedddd

Marcia Sueosugi

Not slaughter whale never I want kill
Human is shit

Marcia Sueosugi

Nooooo s

Sarah Louise Railton

Eivind Lómstein Petersen reduced to petty insults . Ok ! Whatever but i dont need to argue with you . You are wrong end of conversation . The whole world is watching you !!!!!!

Mitch Richard-Baker

So putridly disgusting. Hope they choke on it. I dispise the so called human race.

Takashi Kawase


Timothy J. Budris

Stop doing this. Not just in our life time because it's common sense, do it right now, because it's inhumane, and fundamentally wrong without requiring any discussion. Stop it.

Carol Naylor

No absolutely stop. Evolve like all other humans

Kiera Gardner

Magnus Petersson Some of us believe that animals were not put on this planet for exploitation. Some of us literally view all life as equal and choose not to eat or exploit animals. Your life is no more valuable than the whale's life. My life is no more valuable than a pig's life. Life is simply life. There is no greater or lesser species. Unfortunately, humans are the only animals who have developed savage ways to kill pretty much anything, including each other. We kill for sport. We kill for fun. We kill just to watch something die. We cut… Read more »

Susan Endlich

Humanity will never evolve as a species until we end our exploitation and slaughter of billions of animals. We sow what we reap. There is no reason to make a "living" off of killing animals. We can use our intelligence and creativity combined with a higher morality and compassion and create entire new industries that do not involve harming others. We have the capacity to be better people and live well without doing harm.

Elaine Doe

Barbaric and Medieval, time to drag themselves out of the Dark Age and into the 21st century.

Andrea RJ

Should any slaughter be accepted in this day and age? Grow up! You aren't starving or in need of clothes like the Cave men were/did. We have great options in the 21st Century.

Susan Robert

Vote No!!!

Susan Robert

Vote No!!!

Roy Parker

No. No matter how they are slaughtered they feel agonising pain

Eivind Lómstein Petersen

Katharina Sampson Centers and we have every right to completly ignore you 😉

Magnus Petersson

Sorry if you didnt know this, but the Faroes is not some poor ass third world Carbbean island dependent on some fucking cruise lines

Katharina Sampson Centers

50% of the earth's oxygen is made by phytoplankton which live on whale poop. Our species has reduced whale population by 90% we have every right to tell the Faroese to stop. When the ocean dies we all die

Magnus Petersson

Katharina Sampson Centers So what? Do you think the Faroes are dependent on this or what?

Katharina Sampson Centers

50% of the earth's oxygen is made by phytoplankton which live on whale poop. Our species has reduced whale population by 90% we have every right to tell the Faroese to stop. When the ocean dies we all die

Katharina Sampson Centers

Magnus Petersson cruise lines have started to nit go to Faroe islands because of the hunt.

Katharina Sampson Centers

Magnus Petersson your own attorney general cautions against the consumption of this endangered species

Heather Knetzger Wilson

Magnus Petersson the mercury laden poison???

Wil Vanseeters

Dit is vreselijk dat moet stoppen per direct

Louise Byrne

Magnus Petersson wow wow hope you chock on it every last one of you

Louise Byrne

M3agnus Petersson dfuc

Louise Byrne

Why on earth is this OK to murder animals and the way you do it its horrific. And to take your children down and give them a knife to cut in to a animal I am Scottish and I am ashamed to be because of scum like you if you want to use knifes etc use it on each other not innocent animals

Jill Parr

So called civilised human beings ,wouldn't commit such atrocities !
Totally ashamed of our species. No compassion, heartless and wicked cruelty.
Take a good look at yourselves and remember , one day you will die and you will have to face eternal torment for your inhumane behaviour towards other beings. It will be your turn to suffer !!!!!!!!!

Durga Jai

If I want to drink alcohol until I can't see straight that's MY personal choice. But if I want to punch someone in the face, it's likely they will try to stop me. Why? Because when an action involves another living creature without their consent it's NO LONGER a personal choice!!! There is nothing humane about killing another creature. If you disagree, go cut up your dog while it's still alive. Watch it struggle and fight to free itself, watch it suffer while you dismember it and then get back to everyone about how "normal" the experience was, if you… Read more »

Donna Winter

This is a disgraceful disrespectful act towards whales what unevoled people in that shit country you are murderers

Eivind Lómstein Petersen

Sarah Louise Railton, as soon as you have made sure that every single UK fishing boat stops fishing, then you can use "Whales are not yours !!!! Not your natural resource" as an argument. And with the murder thing again? Come back when you got some real arguments and when you have learned how to use words properly.

Baharak Ghahraman

Sure, it must be stopped.

Sarah Louise Railton

Whales are not yours !!!! Not your natural resource to barbaricly murder . You look like savages while youre murdering them . Blood all over . Its sick and disgusting !!

Esther Stevenson

No amount of rhetoric will ever convince me that this is right. There are many, many cultures around the world that have ditched traditions that have no place in the 21st century because they recognise them as being wrong. The arrogance and utter lack of compassion of the Faroese astounds me.

Chris Usami

Dolphins and whales are not the faroe islands natural resources. They dont belong to people like the shirt you wear .

Cynthia Maria Salomao

Please humans lets stop to kill our planet, the more we are taking from mother nature IN CRUEL WAYS the more she will take from us. NO MORE EVIL KILLING, THESE ANIMALS AS MANY OTHERS AROUND THE PLANET DON'T DESERVE THE MISERY HUMANS ARE BRINGING TO THEM .. GO VEGAN WORLD NO MORE CRUELTY WITH ANIMALS.

Uni Dahl

The araticle sounds well balanced and well researched. But then they changed tiny nuances from the National Geographic's original article to sway opinion, I'm sure, after reaching the end it's clear what the author's goal is, and that's why he changed these things. For example "Men perform a traditional chant before butchering whales in August 2010" turns into "Men and women perform the traditional whale kill chant and dance before slaughtering whales at the Seaman’s Day celebration in Klaksvík on August 21, 2010" giving the impression of a festival, and even worse, that the whales are kept alive while they… Read more »

Thomas Jensen

still not Denmark…..

Donna Winter

This is outdated , barbaric and cruel and needs to be stopped now