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Pilot whale. Image: Christopher Swann

Whale and dolphin hunts in the Faroes

The pilot whale hunt is deeply embedded in Faroese culture and we hope to support and inspire communities there to end it.

Where are the Faroe islands?

The Faroes lie half way between Iceland and Norway and 200 miles north north-west of Scotland.

History of the hunt

The grindadráp (or grind) is a tradition of killing pilot whales and sometimes other dolphins dating back to 800 CE. Until relatively recently, pilot whale meat was an important source of food, but there is no longer a need for whale meat to meet nutritional needs. In fact, today pilot whale meat is contaminated with heavy metals and POPs which makes it unfit for consumption.

The main targets are long-finned pilot whales, but both bottlenose dolphins and Atlantic white-sided dolphins are also killed.

What happens?

Family groups are driven to shore. Blunt metal hooks are sunk into their blowholes and they are dragged up the beach where they are often killed in a very rudimentary way. Pilot whales and dolphins are paralysed and killed with a spinal lance (a tool with a double-edged blade). The whales' necks are then cut in order to bleed them out. There are no kill quotas. The grindadráp is non-commercial and opportunistic in that the hunt doesn't happen at a set time each year.

The Faroese perspective

Just as some people view cows, sheep, pigs and chickens as ‘food animals’, centuries of Faroese people eating pilot whales means many view whales in the same way. Pilot whales, who live long, wild lives in the ocean, are compared to ‘free range’ meat, and so hunting and eating them is viewed as more sustainable and natural than factory farming. So long as pilot whales and other dolphins are regarded in this way, we will not see change. So we hope to grow an appreciation of whales and dolphins in the Faroe Islands.

Facts about whale and dolphin hunts in the Faroe Islands

  • Around 70% of Faroese people think the dolphin hunt should stop
  • 83% of Faroese people are in favour of the grindaráp
  • More than 20,000 dolphins and small whales have been killed over the last 20 years
  • Pilot whale meat and blubber contains high levels of heavy metals and POPs. For this reason, the Faroese health authority advice to consume maximum one meal per month and for women to take extra precautions
  • The largest hunt on the Faroes ever was the dolphin hunt on 12th September 2021 where more than 1,400 Atlantic white-sided dolphins were killed
  • Based on statistics since 2010, an average of around 900 pilot whales and other dolphins have been killed in the grindadráp every year
Faroes HPR 6-5-12(6)

Why have protests failed?

The judgement of outsiders can often do more harm than good and even entrench opinions further. Outside condemnation is viewed as culturally insensitive and hypocritical coming from nations that eat farmed animals. Faroese people don't generally consider pilot whales and other dolphins as deserving of special protection.

Change will come from within the Faroes. As long as pilot whales and other dolphins are regarded as healthy food with no environmental impact, we won’t see change.

What’s our approach and how are we different?

We want to support local passion and grassroots activism and grow a community of people who love and value whales as
amazing, intelligent, sentient, emotional beings who are crucial to the health of marine ecosystems and ultimately to
human survival. We do not expect to see change happen immediately, but we believe it will come.

Connection then protection

The way we see it, an understanding will lead to an appreciation, and this in turn will lead to an emotional connection, followed by a desire to nurture and protect. With the right approach, individual people and communities on the Faroe Islands will embark on this journey of discovery and one day see themselves as proud guardians of the magnificent whales and dolphins who live around their beautiful island home.

Recent news about the Faroe Islands

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