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On the anniversary of the massacre of 1,423 dolphins, what’s changed?

One year ago today, 1,423 Atlantic white-sided dolphins, including mothers with calves and pregnant females, were chased for hours before being slaughtered on a beach in the Faroe Islands. Death would not have come quickly, and we can only imagine their fear and confusion as they listened to their pod mates’ cries and screams, and witnessed and suffered the pain and agony inflicted by the knives as they, according to the Faroese press, ‘laid their bones in Skálafjörður this morning’.

One year on, and despite international and domestic outrage, public condemnation and our petition carrying over 1.3 million signatures pleading for an end to the hunts, little has changed, or has it?

Grind_Kill_2019_ child and Atlantic white-sided dolphin_WDC

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Shortly after the biggest hunt of dolphins in the islands’ history, the prime minister announced a review of dolphin hunting in the Faroe Islands and the place of these hunts in Faroese culture. After many months, an announcement was made that instead of a ban (which is something that almost 60% of the Faroese public wanted, including the Aquaculture Association and all its members) an annual quota of 500 ‘dolphins’ would be allowed. This would only be in place until 2024 by which time they were hoping to increase the quota to 825.

This announcement was nothing more than a slap in the face and a one-fingered salute to all those opposed to the hunting of dolphins. The review was an opportunity for the Faroe Islands to put to bed the needless slaughter of dolphins once and for all, but instead, it has further enshrined the killing of dolphins in national legislation.

Decisions were also made to further the development of a new ‘dolphin killing tool’ and to offer a training course for the ‘grind’ where participants were to be trained in the use of the mønustingara, or spinal lance for killing pilot whales.

Let us not forget the butchering of six (protected) northern bottlenose whales over the course of a few days in August. It is illegal to hunt this species, but if they strand then they are allowed to be ‘taken’. However it is the loose interpretation of ‘strand’ that one must question as consensus is that it appears to be more ‘assisted stranding’ than anything else. None of this sounds like there is any intention to ban, let alone reduce, dolphin hunting.

Northern bottlenose whales
Northern bottlenose whales

Dolphins (not including pilot whales who are technically dolphins but not included in this review or included in the quotas set) are not seen as being a ‘traditional hunt’ and as noted, plenty of Faroese people, including the fishing industry, wanted to see an end to these unnecessary and brutal killings. Dolphins were never a targeted species and individuals or pods were killed as and when they ‘happened’ to be caught up in a pilot whale grind – as dolphins like to hang out with other species from time to time – and over half of the Faroese whaling bays have seen no dolphins killed over the past ten years.

Only days after the announcement of quotas by the Faroese government, to add salt to the festering wound, on 29th July 2022, 100 bottlenose dolphins were massacred. The official figures only claim 97, however they also claim them to be Atlantic white-sided dolphins when they very clearly were not. The slaughter occurred at the very same beach, and was overseen by the very same sheriff, who gave the green light to murder 1,423 souls almost a year before. Local news reported that this was the first time that the ‘new dolphin killing tool’ had been used and the sheriff was quoted as saying ‘the killing went smoothly’ – I’m certain the dolphins did not feel the same way. It was beyond heart-breaking.

Bottlenose dolphins
Bottlenose dolphins

One of the overarching concerns surrounding the hunting of Atlantic white-sided dolphins was their conservation status, and the fact that the little we do know about the species, and about the threats they face. It’s unlikely that they can withstand additional pressure from hunting. The same can be said for bottlenose dolphins. We know so little about the North East Atlantic population, but we do know that the Faroes are likely at the northerly extremity of their range, that they face many more additional threats, and that hunting could bring about the extinction of these vulnerable populations.

Instead of listening to the science, both conservation and human-health-related, to their own citizens, industry, tourism and international political pressure, the powers that be within Faroese society have decided to allow the continued, and expanded slaughter of innocent lives, by a small minority of islanders. It’s time for the majority to stand up for what they believe in, and we at WDC are working to help them have their voices heard.

As a side note: - The results of the review have never been made public and we graciously ask to be provided with a copy.

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About Nicola Hodgins

Policy Manager at WDC

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