Faeroe Islands: The Graveyard of Shame
Commentary by: François-Xavier Pelletier
On August 5, 2010 at dawn, 83 pilot whales were murdered in a narrow hunting bay of the Faeroe Islands called Leynar. The bodies were then transported to the small harbor of Kvivik to be cut into pieces.
A month earlier, Sea Shepherd Conservation Society had sent me to the Faeroe Islands as an undercover operative in order to prepare for the Grind Stop Campaign, which was to be carried out on the Golfo Azzuro, a ship used by Sea Shepherd in partnership with the Brigitte Bardot Foundation. The goal was to save as many pilot whales as possible by interfering with any grind we might come across, and more importantly, to avoid any grind from happening in the first place by using acoustic repulsive devices that would scare the whales away from the deadly bays.
When I studied in detail the 23 authorized hunting bays, I came to the conclusion that the next slaughter would most likely take place in Klaksvik. But I had to leave the Faeroes; my place during this campaign would be on board the Golfo, and I had to join this vessel in Holland. I would be onboard as an expert on the grind issue and a strategic consultant.
A few days after I left, Sea Shepherd sent another undercover operative, Peter Hammarstedt, to the Faeroes. While in Klaskvik, Peter was able to document the dead bodies of the 236 slaughtered whales in such horrifying conditions that this particular grind was even criticized by the Faeroese themselves.
I was not expecting a grind to happen in Leynar’s bay, which was too narrow and close to more important bays. And yet, within 10 minutes of someone spotting from his window a group of whales that had appeared in the bay out of nowhere, the animals were driven to the beach. Within 7 minutes at the beach, they had all been slaughtered.
It happened so quickly that there was no time for the Golfo to intervene, but I wanted to know where all of the whale bodies wound up. So the next day, I went to shore with Lamya Essemlali, President of Sea Shepherd France and Grind Stop Campaign Leader. All of the village smelled like death; some pieces of meat were still there in garbage bags. Two trucks loaded up the remaining dead bodies and left. Without a car, we were unable to follow them. A fishermen was washing away the blood that was left on the ground. He asked us to follow him and showed us a whale’s head that was hanging from a rope at the entrance of the harbor. It was being used as vulgar bait. I felt revolted by this lack of respect. The next Sunday, at 5:00 in the morning, I was back onboard our small zodiac to dive and document what the Faeroese do with the bodies of the whales they have killed.
I wanted to find the place where they throw the rest of the bodies to find out if the Faeroese tradition of eating all the whales that are killed is actually respected. We tried in vain to gather information that would lead us to a hidden whale graveyard, but the secret was very well kept.
Fortunately, a bit of inference together with a strange and almost mystical inspiration drove me straight to that specific spot, where at 24 meters depth, inside a crevasse, was a centennial pilot whale graveyard. I felt nauseous. The bodies of the 86 pilot whales who had been killed on August 5 were piled there. Their heads danced with the current. They almost looked alive, and I had the strange feeling that they were crying for help. What happened to me down there was extremely strange. I knew no one on the surface would believe me, but I had the feeling I had entered a silent universe where the cetaceans cried out in despair.
The scene was distressing. Fetuses were mixed with entire adult bodies, and there were a lot of young whales, too. It was such a waste that even hunters would not tolerate it.
Back on board the Golfo, I was in shock and yet more determined than ever to fight until we have put an end to this apocalyptic, anti-traditional slaughter. An entire pilot whale’s body was floating next to our ship. How can anyone believe that the grind is still a necessity? This so-called tradition has become nothing more than a macho and bloody game that is meant to demonstrate one’s virility and impress the girls who watch on the beach. It is similar to bullfighting, and it is a shame for the Faeroese people, who can be so remarkable on other human, social, and even ecological issues.
In memory of an earlier time when the Faeroese had sunk my boat, flattened the four tires of my car, and thrown me in jail under the only accusation of filming the slaughter of pilot whales, I put a message into one of our acoustic devices that we left in the bay of Vagur where I was arrested. It read:
“Vagur, remember 1987. See you soon, François Xavier Pelletier.”