The Faeroe Islands is a group of 18 islands, of which 17 are inhabited, and is located in the North Atlantic about 200 miles (322 km) northwest of the Shetland Islands (map). They were settled by the Vikings, the ancestors of the modern-day Faeroese, in the 8th century. The Faeroese language is derived from Old Norse. The islands joined Denmark in 1386 and have been part of the Danish kingdom ever since. The Danish Home Rule Act of 1948 recognizes the Faeroe Islands as a self-governing community within the United Kingdom of Denmark with its own flag and Faeroese as its main language. The 2010 population estimate is 49,000.
"Pilot whale" in Faeroese is "grindhval."
The majority of North Atlantic cetaceans give birth to their calves in the warm waters of the equator before migrating past the Faeroe Islands to feed in the nutrient rich waters of Svalbard and the Arctic. Long-finned pilot whales pass by the North Atlantic Islands while pursuing squid, their main source of food.
THE CRUEL “GRIND”
Recorded first as early as 1586, the Faeroese developed a method of whaling that involves stranding pods of small cetaceans on certain designated beaches. When a pod of cetaceans, primarily long- and short-finned pilot whales (bottlenose dolphins, Atlantic white-beaked dolphins, Atlantic white-sided dolphins and harbor porpoises can also be taken) are spotted offshore, the grind, or whale slaughter, commences.
The local community heads out in small boats loaded with stones, hooks, ropes, and knives. Once they’ve approached the pod, the boats form a small half-circle behind the pod. Small rocks attached to lines are thrown into the water to create a wall of bubbles to reflect the sonar of the pilot whale. The cetaceans interpret the bubbles as a cliff wall that they must steer away from – because of that, the small boats are able to herd the cetaceans towards a low-lying shore. As the pod approaches land, the boats continue to harass and frighten the mammals until they’re washed up on shore. Once beached, a knife is used to cut through the veins and arteries that supply blood to the pilot whales head. Some pilot whales suffer for as much as 30 seconds while others can take up to four minutes to die.
Those pilot whales that do not wash ashore have a gaff hook beaten into their blow hole and are then pulled ashore by rope. As a result of public pressure campaigns spearheaded by groups like Sea Shepherd in the 1980s, the gaff hook no longer resembles its sharper predecessor, but the blocking of the cetacean’s airway is incredibly painful and results in panic and injury. The panic and suffering is no less mitigated by a sea that quickly turns red with blood in a bizarre ritual reminiscent of Roman gladiatorial violence. As the entire human community partakes in the blood orgy, the whale meat is divided up among the locals although many times the whale meat is simply left to rot on the beach. Up to 1,000 pilot whales are killed annually in this manner, primarily in the months of July and August.
The long-finned pilot whale is listed in Appendix II of Convention on Migratory Species (CMS), meaning that the International Union for Conservation of Nature has determined that although the species is not necessarily threatened with extinction, it may become so unless hunting is closely controlled. There is no information on global trends in population, and with a wide range of threats to populations, from military sonar to entanglement in fishing gear, it is believed that populations could face a reduction of 30% over three generations.
Therefore, the Convention on the Conservation of European Wildlife and Natural Habitats classifies the long-finned pilot whale as “strictly protected” under Appendix II. While the Faeroe Islands are not a member of the European Union, they remain a Danish Protectorate. In other words, even though the Faeroes are self-governing, Denmark controls the police, defense, foreign policy, and the currency. All trade with EU countries is handled through the Danish foreign ministry. The primary reason for the Faeroes abstaining from joining the EU was in an effort to prevent the EU from meddling in their fishing policies. The slaughter of cetaceans is illegal within the European Union.
Denmark fails to abide by their obligations as a co-signer of the Convention on the Conservation of European Wildlife and Natural Habitats (also known as the Bern Convention) by violating:
Chapter III - Protection of Species
Chapter IV - Special provisions for migratory species
It is the position of the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society that Denmark fails to fulfill its obligations under the Bern Convention for a number of reasons:
North Atlantic pilot whales, because of their position in the food chain as an apex predator, are poisoned by large amounts of environmental pollutants. Meat resulting from the grind contains high amounts of arsenic, cadmium, zinc, lead, copper mercury, and selenium. In 2008, the chief medical officers of the Islands, Pal Weihe and Hogni Joensen, declared that pilot whale meat contains too much mercury and other contaminants to be safe for human consumption. Mercury poisoning has been found among Islanders resulting in “damage to fetal neural development, high blood pressure, and impaired immunity in children, as well as increased rates of Parkinson’s disease, circulatory problems and possibly infertility in adults”. Feeding Faeroese children tainted whale meat is tantamount to child abuse.
SEA SHEPHERD HISTORY STOPPING THE GRIND
Sea Shepherd Conservation Society has been the leading opposition against the slaughter of pilot whales in the Danish Faeroe Islands. Captain Paul Watson has led campaigns to oppose the hunt in 1985 and 1986 and again in 2000. No whales were killed while Sea Shepherd patrolled the Islands. Sea Shepherd was also successful in convincing 20,000 stores in two grocery chains in Germany to boycott Faeroese fish products. Sea Shepherd's efforts against the Faeroese whalers is documented in the BBC documentary “Black Harvest.”
We intend to remain unwaivering on this issue until the Grind is no more.
Visit our Faeroes SSCS History page for more