For more than four centuries, the dwellers of the remote Faroe Islands located 200 miles off the coast of Scotland have been killing pilot whales for blubber and meat.
Recently, the gory tradition has piqued the interest of an American photographer with ties to the region who travelled to the archipelago to capture the horror and grotesque beauty of the annual whale hunt.
Benjamin Rasmussen, of Denver, visited Faroe Islands, a protectorate of Denmark, to shed light on the startling practice in which entire villages go out in boats, herd pods of pilot whales close to shore and then cut their necks, turning the waters red with blood.
After the hunt, which takes place every summer, the blubber and meat of the slaughtered animals is distributed among all the members of the community.
‘It is an incredibly bloody and horrific spectacle, but so are the factory farms and slaughterhouses that raise American beef, pork and poultry. It is just that those abattoirs exist behind closed doors,’ Rasmussen told the blog FeatureShoot.
For years, animal rights activists around the world, including the non-profit organization Campaign Whale, have been railing against the practice of killing whales, calling it inhumane, barbaric and completely unnecessary. It is important to note that pilot whales are not an endangered species.
However, the Faroese, who number around 48,000, are extremely protective of their cultural heritage and customs, chief among them the whale hunt, which dates back to the 1500s.
In the past, the inhabitants of the archipelago relied on the whales’ meat for sustenance, but it is less popular now due to high levels of toxins like mercury and PCBs.
In 2008, the chief medical officer in the Faroes recommended that the meat and blubber of pilot whales were no longer fit for human consumption. Recently, the Faroes Food and Veterinary Agency said that people should not eat whale meat more than once a month, while women of child-bearing age were urged to avoid it altogether.
The hunt, known in the local language as ‘gridadrap,’ gets under way at dawn when a pod of whales is spotted off shore.
The hunters lure the animals to a predetermined beach by hitting the hulls of boats with metal and wooden clubs, and then get them on the hook.
Once the whales are in shallow waters, the participants of the hunt sever the trapped critters’ spinal cord, killing them instantly.
Rasmussen, whose father is a native of Faroe Islands, had spent part of his childhood there, eating whale meat and blubber.
He noted that the tradition, so cherished by the inhabitants of the remote archipelago, may soon come to an end since the young generation does not have a taste for whale meat.
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The editorial content of this article was first published by the Daily Mail.