I wasn’t alone in hoping that substantial changes would be made as a result of the ‘dolphin hunting review’. This so-called ‘review’ was promised by the Faroese government after international and domestic outrage at the massacre of 1,423 Atlantic white-sided dolphins in September 2021. Together with our partners at Avaaz, Only One and SeaLegacy, we presented Prime Minister Bárður á Steig Nielsen with a petition signed by 1.3 million people and he acknowledged this international pressure in a radio interview with our representative.
More deaths not fewer
But it seems I was hanging on to false hope because instead of banning dolphin hunting outright – as we and the majority of Faroese people want – they decided to put in place an official kill-quota of 500 dolphins per year, for the next two years, whereafter they will be looking to increase the number hunters will be allowed to kill to 825. Nothing about this makes any kind of sense.
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Deadly backwards move
The review of the dolphin hunts doesn’t include the infamous pilot whale grind (yes, I know pilot whales are dolphins too, but the two hunts are considered separately by the Faroese authorities, and by the Faroese public) and was undertaken as the prime minister promised to ‘evaluate the place dolphin hunting had within Faroese culture’. Opinion polls repeatedly showed that the Faroese themselves considered it an outdated and unnecessary practice, and there was strong support for a ban from industry, including the Faroese Aquaculture Association (‘aquaculture’ is fish farming) who felt the continued hunts were damaging to business. Yet still this quota was set.
On the surface, a quota capping the dolphin hunt at 500 might seem like a step forward, indeed several media outlets reported it as such, however a deeper understanding reveals it is actually a giant and dangerous step backwards, with the Government of the Faroe Islands moving to enshrine dolphin hunting into Faroese law. A quota of 500 dolphins a year far exceeds the number of dolphins killed in any recent year (excluding the hunt in 2021), for example no dolphins were slaughtered between 2014 and 2016, eight were killed in 2019 and 35 in 2020.
Impact on wild population
Fifteen out of the 24 ‘whaling bays’ have seen no dolphin kills in the past ten years. In truth, the quota of 500 dolphins per year is double the average annual number for the last 10 years over which time 2,640 dolphins have been slaughtered.
One also has to ask, how did they come up with the magic number of 500? No reliable population estimates exist for Atlantic white-sided dolphins so how can they be confident that a hunt of this size (and an even greater allowable kill-quota from 2024 onwards) is sustainable? If anything, available science tells us that the population targeted by Faroese hunters is potentially already at breaking point due to other pressures.
The announcement of quotas has received a mixed reaction within the islands themselves. Regin Jacobsen, manager of Faroese salmon farming giant Bakkafrost, says that dolphin killing was one of the biggest threats to Faroese exports, and the company directly recommended that the authorities ban dolphin killing in the Faroe Islands. Atli Gregersen, another member of the Faroese Aquaculture Association (Havbúnaðarfelagið), voiced his disappointment following the decision and said they ‘should not be killing dolphins’. However, the Whalers Association, are unhappy – even though they’re now technically allowed to murder twice as many dolphins as before – and some are even threatening to sue the government for ‘renumeration’ for the loss of ‘free food’.
Encouraging more killing
What is really worrying, is that instead of reducing the number of whales and dolphins hunted, they are actually increasing it, and looking to increase it even further over the coming years. In the last 10 years, a total of 8,998 whales and dolphins were slaughtered in the Faroe Islands. The 10 years previous it was 8,568. Rather than dropping dolphins from the kill list, they appear to be trying to level up the dolphin hunt to be on a par with pilot whale killing. If all of the above wasn’t bad enough, the government have also encouraged the rapid development of a ‘custom-made killing tool for dolphins’.
So, devastatingly, rather than listening to the majority of Faroese citizens, their own fishing industry and international concern, instead of affording dolphins more protection, the Faroes government have sanctioned the horrific deaths of even larger numbers of dolphins than ever before.
It’s a senseless and sickening outcome that makes our job even more difficult. But we promise you we will keep fighting, both publicly and behind the scenes, to bring these hunts to an end. We have to, for the sake of the dolphins.
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