Takk Heri Joensen: Viking Vs Viking Over the Grind
Commentary by Captain Paul Watson
I would like to thank Heavy Metal musician Heri Joensen for having the courage and the conviction to debate me on the Animal Planet network on May 4th concerning the controversy of the slaughter of pilot whales in the Faeroe Islands. The horrifically brutal massacre of entire pods of defenseless pilot whales is so repugnant to the majority of people in the world that not one Faeroese politician, scientist, academic, or even a whaler volunteered to step forward in a public forum to defend their behavior. How do you defend the indefensible? You can’t, and they knew it, so they declined. However one man stood up for the Faeroes. Heri Joensen of the heavy metal band Tyr, a band that blends Nordic mythology with heavy metal in a uniquely Faeroese approach to music. Their Nordic rants on the virtues of the Nordic demigods have provoked some critics to label the group as fascists and even pro-Nazi, but I have not seen any evidence that they extol such hateful beliefs.
That they promote Nordic nationalism is however without question and their anti-Christian and violent lyrics do tend to lend themselves to being pigeon holed as extremists Despite that, it was a tough gig for Heri Joensen. He had to defend death and cruelty whereas I had the much easier task of championing life and compassion. At least he tried, which is more than can be said for the political representatives of his country. His task was even more difficult because he had to argue the position that the killing of the whales was humane when the video and blood drenched images being shown clearly demonstrated that the slaughter is far from humane. This is like arguing that the color of snow is green while standing in the middle of a snowstorm. Heri’s argument was that there are plenty of pilot whales and the whales are killed instantly and it is no different than a slaughterhouse in Europe or America. He had boasted, leading up to the debate, that he was going to hammer me with facts and the truth. However, instead of Thor’s impressive hammer Mjölnir, Heri pulled out a little ball-peen to pathetically beat on the shield of my arguments. He produced not a single piece of evidence to back up the opinions he was trying to pass off as facts. He said there were 800,000 pilot whales in the North Atlantic according to the International Whaling Commission (IWC), the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), and various fishery agencies. Yet the IWC does not regulate small cetaceans and the IUCN listed the pilot whales as “status unknown” meaning that the precautionary principle should be invoked.
After people were exposed to the agonizing suffering of a pilot whale on camera, Heri’s case for the humane killing was a man with a knife explaining how he kills a whale in seconds. There was no visual evidence of this actually being done on a whale, just a man explaining how he does it. Because Heri is a member of a heavy metal band from the Faeroe Islands, we were, in effect, asked to ignore the actual facts and to accept his “facts” and his word as a musician that the hunt is sustainable and humane. To his credit Heri has never killed a whale. He is simply an apologist for the killers, but not a killer himself. This makes it relatively easier for Heri to defend something he is not actually guilty of, because he does not suffer the psychological need to justify what he has done. It’s similar to the boastful soldiers from any war being the ones who sat behind a desk and never killed anyone, whereas most combat soldiers do not usually brag about their kills. Heri feels it may be his patriotic duty to defend the Grind because it is a Faeroese tradition, but I don’t feel any need, nor have I ever had the desire to defend the slaughter of seals in Canada simply because a few Canadians have killed them for a few hundred years.
The slaughter of baby seals in Canada by my fellow Canadians is just as ruthlessly brutal as the merciless massacre of the pilot whales. In fact the majority of Canadians are opposed to it. The majority of Faroese may well support the slaughter of pilot whales but there are people in the Faeroes beginning to question and oppose the killings. These are seeds of discontent that we need to nurture. Heri admitted in the debate that some whales are killed inhumanely. He admitted that the killing of whales was not a necessity and that the same foods available to the general public in Europe are available in the Faeroes. He also admitted that the mercury in the whales was a serious concern. I think Heri was sincere in his beliefs and opinions, but that does not make him right. Nor perhaps may people feel that it makes me right with my opinions and beliefs. That is why we came to the Faeroes and unleashed the most powerful weapon ever invented – the camera!
The purpose of our campaign was not to go to the Faeroes and physically shut down the slaughter forever in one campaign. We knew the difficulties in such a strategy. But as it turned out not a single whale was killed while the Sea Shepherd crew was there. Our primary strategy was to bring this obscene mass slaughter of these beautiful and intelligent sentient creatures to the attention of the world We have done just that, reaching millions with the images, the controversy, and the conflict. In doing so we have stoked the fires of disapproval and for millions of people who did not even know of the existence of the Faeroe Islands, the image of the blood, the pain, and the ruthless orgy of slaughter is now indelibly stamped into their memories. Heri kept repeating the same thing over and over that the killing of the pilot whales is no different than the slaughterhouses where cows, chickens, and pigs are slaughtered.
There are differences, of course, but why this is relevant when debating an organization that espouses vegetarianism and veganism is perplexing. The Sea Shepherd Conservation Society is especially critical of Danish factory farms where sand eels, the primary food of North Atlantic puffins, are being fed to battery chickens. Sea Shepherd would understand Heri’s concern for slaughterhouses if he actually cared, but Heri buys chicken, beef, and pork from the supermarket. Sea Shepherd does not. Heri states that the pilot whale kill is legal and technically that is correct. The Sea Shepherd position however is that Denmark, a member of the European Union, should not be providing massive subsidies to the Faeroes unless the Faeroes abides by European regulations that consider the killing of whales to be illegal. The Faeroese should be made to choose between their subsidies and supermarket-available food or their barbaric slaughter.
Finally Heri compared Sea Shepherd to the tobacco industry in a way that defied explanation, especially since Sea Shepherd acts in defense of life, whereas Heri was championing suffering and death. Heri kept insisting that I do what I do just for the money, yet he failed to do his research because I do not make money from donations. I earn my income from writing, lectures, and film just as he earns his living from music. We do take in donations, but our books show very clearly that the money is spent to stop the very things that Heri is defending. He did admit to not doing his research when he wrote his song Rainbow Warrior about me. He failed to realize that the Rainbow Warrior is a Greenpeace ship and I am not affiliated with Greenpeace. His description of me coming from a concrete jungle is untrue as I was raised in an east coast fishing village and where I live presently is on an island smaller than the island he is from. His tactic was to dismiss me as an opportunistic urbanite alienated from the natural world where slaughter is the norm. It may be the norm in his world, but not in mine. I have spent my life opposing cruelty and the destruction of biodiversity including hunting down elephant poachers in Tsavo East Park in Kenya, defending wolves in the Yukon, seals on the ice floes, and whales in the Southern Ocean. I have in fact spent more time in the wilderness and in remote and isolated places than Heri has, or ever will. It is easy to pontificate from the pulpit of the stage as a rock star singing about conflict and storms, battles and struggles, yet quite another to battle storms in confrontations with ruthless foes on the high seas.
Heri lives in a world of musical instruments, stagehands, audiences, and all the perks of a rock star. It’s quite another thing to weather actual storms and to engage in physical confrontations with a violent opposition on the high seas. In short, we the crew of the Sea Shepherd ships are the real Vikings and Heri gets to play one onstage. Yet there is something else that Heri does not know about me and that is that my grandfather Otto Larsen was Danish and my father’s family came from Brittany and Normandy, which makes my heritage a Viking heritage also, but with one very significant difference – I don’t have to kill an intelligent self aware beautiful social sentient being to prove or to celebrate my heritage. Any man can kill a whale or a baby seal if they choose to be ruthless, instead of gentle and kind, and if they choose to deny empathy and compassion to embrace cruelty and death. The modern Viking should be a champion of nature and life, not a merciless destroyer. Blood and gore, death and destruction is so old school Viking and should go the same way of rape and pillage, slavery and human sacrifices, all former traditional values of Viking communities of centuries past. However despite all of this, Heri Joensen did have the courage to speak up in defense of his beliefs and I can’t fault him for that, especially when the Faeroese whalers and politicians lacked the moral fortitude to do themselves. If this is the best that the Faeroese can do in championing their cause for slaughter, they have clearly lost the moral high ground. This is not about traditions and values, or culture and heritage. It is simply a merciless, ruthless, remorseless, obscene blood orgy of death and disrespect for nature and for life. The Grind must die so that the whales may live. It is as simple as that.