The practice of hunting dolphins in the Faroe Islands (Denmark’s autonomous territory) is in check after the death of more than 1,400 of the mammals, a record level of capture.
The pod of white-faced dolphins was driven to the largest fjord in the North Atlantic territory on Sunday (12/09).
The boats took them to shallow waters at Skalabotnur beach in Eysturoy, where they were killed with knives. And the carcasses were transported ashore and distributed to residents for consumption.
Alert: from here, this text contains graphic details and images that some readers may find shocking.
Records for that day show dolphins floundering in the waters, which turned red with blood as hundreds of people watched from the beach.
Known as grind (or Grindadrap in Faroese), hunting marine mammals (mainly whales) has been a tradition practiced for hundreds of years in the remote Faroe Islands.
The Faroese government claims that around 600 pilot whales are caught each year on average. White-faced dolphins are caught in smaller numbers, such as 35 in 2020 and 10 in 2019.
For advocates of the practice, hunting marine mammals is a sustainable way to gather food from nature and an important part of their cultural identity. Animal rights activists, on the other hand, consider the massacre cruel and unnecessary.
The 9/12 hunt was no different, and several international conservation groups criticized the hunters for the killing.
But the scale of the number of animals killed on Skalabotnur beach has shocked many residents and has even received criticism from groups involved in the practice.
According to Bjarni Mikkelsen, a marine biologist from the Faroe Islands, records show that this was the largest number of dolphins ever killed in one day in the autonomous territory of Denmark.
He said the previous record was 1,200 in 1940. The next ones were 900 in 1879, 856 in 1873 and 854 in 1938, according to Mikkelsen.
In an interview with the BBC, the president of the Faroe Islands Whalers Association, Olavur Sjurdarberg, admitted that the killing was excessive.
So why were so many dolphins killed?
‘People are in shock’
“It was a big mistake,” said Sjurdarberg, who did not participate in the hunt. “When the group was found, they estimated there were about 200 dolphins.”
Only when the killing process began did they discover the true size of the group.
“Someone should have taken a better look at it,” Sjurdarberg said. “Most people are in shock at what happened.”
Even so, according to Sjurdarberg, the arrest was approved by local authorities and no laws were broken.
These hunts are regulated in the Faroe Islands. They are non-commercial and are organized by the community, usually spontaneously when someone sees a group of mammals.
To participate, hunters must have an official training certificate that enables them to kill the animals.
‘Cool but not popular’
Killing white-faced dolphins is “nice but not popular,” said Sjurdur Skaale, Danish MP for the Faroe Islands.
He visited Skalabotnur beach to speak with locals the day after the hunt. “People were furious,” according to reports the deputy said he had heard.
Still, the political representative defended the hunt, which he said was “humane” if done correctly.
It involves a specially designed spear, which is used to cut the spinal cord of the whale or dolphin before the neck is cut.
Using this method, it should take “less than a second to kill a whale,” Skaale said.
“From an animal welfare point of view, it’s a good way to kill game, much better than keeping cows and pigs locked up,” he says.
Environmental group Sea Shepherd disputed that statement, arguing that “the killing of dolphins and pilot whales is rarely as fast as the Faroese government claims.”
“Grindadrap’s hunts can turn into protracted and often disorganized massacres,” the group says. “Pilot whales and dolphins can be killed for long periods in front of their relatives while they are stranded on sand, rocks or just fighting in shallow water.”
Prepared for ‘a big negative reaction’
Opinion polls show that most people are opposed to the mass slaughter of dolphins in the Faroe Islands.
On Sunday, the national reaction was “one of bewilderment and shock at the extraordinarily large number (of dead animals),” said Trondur Olsen, a journalist with the Faroese public broadcaster Kringvarp Foroya.
“We did a quick survey yesterday asking if we should continue killing these dolphins. Just over 50% said no, and just over 30% said yes,” Olsen said.
In contrast, another survey found that 80% of respondents advocated continuing to kill pilot whales.
Surveys such as these provide a picture of public opinion regarding the hunting of marine mammals.
Criticism of hunting in the Faroe Islands has risen and fallen over the decades. Hunting returns to the spotlight from time to time, as happened with the popular documentary Seaspiracy – Red Sea, released by Netflix in early 2021.
This time, however, locals say the reaction (especially within the whaling community) was unusually strong.
“There has been a lot of international attention. My suspicion is that people are gearing up for a big backlash,” said Olsen. “This is a good time for activists to put even more pressure on. This time it’s different because the numbers (of dead animals) are too high.”