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Humpback whale. Image: Christopher Swann

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When things go wrong

Journalist Hans Peter Roth shares a final blog reflecting upon his outreach in the Faroe Islands and the most recent grind.

Sunday, 21st of July 2013 saw the first Faroese drive hunt of the year. 125 pilot whales were driven onto the beach of Víðvík and killed. This is the same beach where – in November 2010 – many of the then killed pilot whales were left to rot after their meat had gone bad. When pilot whales appear elsewhere around the Faroe Islands, it is quite likely that then again things might go wrong. And from an animal welfare and conservation point of view, things of course always go wrong when a drive hunt takes place.

Not so from the perspective of the Faroese whale hunters of course. The hardened pilot whalers among them can hardly wait for the day the whales turn up, in the hope that there will be enough people and enough boats taking part in the hunt in order to kill the whole pod. These hunters also keep insisting that these days the “Grindadráp” has become very efficient, professional and that the animals are killed quickly and almost painlessly.

Before the actual act of killing – which is of course far from being painless – the victims are subject to a long and exhausting chase which sometimes lasts over 10 nautical miles after which they are driven onto the beach and have to witness the horror of the extermination of their whole family.

But even the most hardened among the whalers agree that this literal “bloodbath” can sometimes go horribly wrong which in the past has led to a lot of criticism and discussions within the Faroese community. Below are some examples of how the Grindadráp is often even further from being as “humane” as some of the hunters keep on claiming it to be. All examples were given by reliable sources within the community of the Faroese pilot whalers.

– Klaksvík, 18th of June 1978: 31 Orcas are driven onto the beach and killed. They were confused with pilot whales is the explanation used to justify the hunt later on.

– Klaksvík, 16th of September 2009: Three Risso´s dolphins are killed despite a ban to hunt this species. Again the hunters claim that they confused the animals with pilot whales.

– Hvalba, 13th of April 2010: Again 21 Risso´s dolphins are killed with the same explanation of having confused the dolphins with pilot whales.

– Klaksvík, 19th of July 2010: In the biggest drive hunt of the last six years 228 pilot whales are driven onto shore, despite the beach only having the capacity to hold up to 100 animals. The killing takes place at dusk with night falling quickly and the chaos leads to a massacre. Even a lot of the local people are horrified by the scenes of slaughter. Only four men with the skills to kill the whales quickly and in the right way are present and they are completely overwhelmed by the chaos and the huge number of animals. A lot of young men and women just jump into the chaos, wielding knifes and stabbing at the animals without a clue what they are doing. A lot of the whales slowly bleed to death or die of their wounds. The “horror of Klaksvík” leads to a debate within the Faroese community under which rules the Grindadráp is supposed to take place in the future.*

– Víðvík 11th of November 2010: 62 pilot whales are driven into the remote bay far too late in the day while darkness is already falling. It is decided to kill the animals and come back the next day in order to flense them. By then, the meat and blubber of many of the carcasses has started to rot and the bulk of the meat is being discarded into the ocean.

– Hvalba, 25th of October 2012: 36 pilot whales are being driven into the Hvalba (“Whale bay”) on the south island of Suðuroy in order to tag them with transmitters. The disoriented and shocked animals get stuck in the sandy bay and refuse to be driven back out to sea. They strand and are left helplessly on the beach. Some of them die. It is only after a whole night of bureaucratic back and forth that the locals get permission to kill the rest of the stranded animals.

Some of the Faroese hunters might claim that these incidents are sad exceptions, but five hunts gone wrong within only three years should lead to some serious questioning of the drive hunts even within the hunters community.

* If Klaksvík will be used for future drive hunts remains unsure because of a huge dock currently under construction within the drive hunt area.

About George Berry

George is a member of WDC's Communications team and website coordinator.