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The Divine Wind That Spared 900 Pilot Whales in the Ferocious Isles

November 23, 2011

The Divine Wind That Spared 900 Pilot Whales in the Ferocious Isles

Commentary by Peter Hammarstedt, First Officer, Bob Barker

A pilot whale Grind from 2010. Photo: Peter HammarstedtA pilot whale Grind from 2010.
Photo: Peter Hammarstedt
It's an incredible phenomenon - long-finned pilot whales from different pods come together to form one fantastic aggregation, a super pod that socializes together across group lines. Cetacean researchers marvel at the natural occurrence because the social act is similar to a human festival, alive with song, play - and yes, even love, and sex.

In the Danish Faeroe Islands, this wonder is seen as an opportunity, not to learn from this fantastic species, but to severely snuff out social structure and family ties by hook and blade.

Last night, a super pod of 1,000 pilot whales was spotted from land off of Kirkjubø on Streymoy.

In a country where debate rages over budgetary cuts of maritime search and rescue efforts, a helicopter was immediately dispatched to the pod to assist in “the Grind,” a cruel method of whaling that involves forcibly stranding pods of cetaceans before severing their spinal chords with knives.

As the helicopter hovered overhead, several fishing boats from the capital of Torshavn and neighboring villages rushed to the scene, their decks fully laden with implements of death. The boats raced against the impending darkness and deteriorating weather conditions while the decision was made to drive the frightened pod to Sandágerði, the killing beach of Torshavn. Waiting for a change in the currents past Nolsoy, the panicked pilot whales were hard to herd, especially as the weather worsened.

When the current finally changed direction, the super pod was split into four groups, the first group of 81 pilot whales was driven towards a shoreline where groups of boys and men waited to cut their spinal cords in a centuries old bloodbath that in this case was described by one onlooker as the “ugliest whale kill that they'd seen in a long time.”

Ultimately, the remaining 900 pilot whales that waited anxiously and fruitlessly called out to their pod members and were spared by winds that refused to relent - the tattered and beaten remains of the super pod were driven back out to sea as the rest of the slaughter was called off.

In Sea Shepherd's absence from the Faeroes, the sands of the Faeroe Islands have again turned sticky with fresh blood. During the months of July and August, the presence of the Sea Shepherd fleet under the command of Captain Paul Watson prevented a single whale from being killed during what is typically the bloodiest time period for whaling for the Faeroese during the entire year. During those two months alone, Sea Shepherd effectively saved the lives of over 500 pilot whales.

Nine hundred pilot whales now struggle to rebuild broken families. As long as they continue to swim in Faeroese waters, they are at risk of another drive taking their lives as well. There have been three Grinds in the past week in the Ferocious Isles. Every Grind is a reminder that Sea Shepherd is the only hope that these pilot whales have, and every pilot whale killed is a testament to the fact that Sea Shepherd must return to again confront the whale killers next year.

The wind spared several cetaceans in the North Atlantic at the same time as the entire Sea Shepherd fleet prepares to manifest itself into the "Divine Wind" that will stop the Japanese whaling fleet from illegally killing whales in the Southern Ocean. Last year, 863 whales were spared from the harpoons of the Japanese whalers as a result of Sea Shepherd’s interventions.


 

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