Three Reasons Why the Faroe Islands Dolphin Hunt Must Stop

Even though more than 294,000 people signed our petition to stop the Faroese dolphin hunts, some defenders still think the practice should be left alone. Keep reading to understand the beliefs that allow this gruesome practice to continue.

Image © Anonymous

Image © Anonymous

On September 12, the waters surrounding the Faroe Islands ran blood-red with the cruel slaughter of at least 1,428 white-sided dolphins. More than one month later, the beaches of these Danish islands no longer lap with such gore, but the world will not soon forget the graphic images of this hunt.

Called the Grindadráp, or The Grind, this hunt primarily involves pilot whales, but in this instance targeted dolphins, which is the focus of our campaign. We are not alone in the shock: within a week of the event, hundreds of thousands of people across the world said, “no more.” A petition that ran on our platform—which you can still sign—had an unprecedented 294,000 thousand signatures calling on Faroese Prime Minister Bárður á Steig Nielsen to take a firm regulatory stance against the dolphin hunt.

The hunt is complex, as is the case when conservation efforts intersect with cultural hunting traditions like The Grind, but we still believe the dolphin hunt needs to be stopped. The following three videos—featuring SeaLegacy and Only One’s cofounders, and in partnership with Whale and Dolphin Conservation—express our stance on the dolphin slaughter and offer counterpoints to those still in favor of the hunt.

Why are the hunts still being carried out in the Faroe Islands?

Historically, The Grind has been a subsistence hunt, leading people to argue that since these hunts are a traditional practice dating back to the sixteenth century, Faroese people should continue to be allowed to harvest the natural resource of dolphin meat—that it’s a food source no different than beef, pork, or chicken for people in other countries. The argument, at its essence, is that stopping The Grind comes from an outside, ethnocentric perspective. However, these hunts were originally conducted with wooden rowing boats, rocks, and spears. Now jet skis and motorboats are used, technological advancements that enable the Faroese hunters to kill unjustifiable numbers of dolphins. Additionally, the demand for this meat is diminishing because of growing health concerns and access to other food sources, meaning The Grind is no longer needed for subsistence like it originally was, with some meat from these hunts now sold commercially.

Many Faroese residents are in favor of banning these hunts. Ingi Sørensen, a Faroese author, diver, and underwater photographer, shared his thoughts on the recent event:

I am having a difficult time finding the right words to describe the pain and helplessness that I’m going through after the primitive, coldhearted, and completely unacceptable massacre of more than 1,400 dolphins in the Faroe Islands on September 12, 2021. Many other Faroe Islanders share my sentiments. At this point, the slaughter is no longer a cultural tradition. It has become a blood sport, plain and simple.

What are the health implications of consuming dolphin meat?

Of the contention points regarding The Grind, the toxic contamination of meat is the most unifying for debaters. However, for those still in favor of the hunt, they argue that yes, the meat is contaminated and shouldn’t be served to certain people like pregnant women and children, but it should also be up to the Faroese as to whether they want to eat it. Looking at the growing concerns from experts though—around the levels of mercury/methylmercury, cadmium, PCB, and DDT and how these toxins increase the risks of hypertension, diabetes, and Parkinson’s disease—it seems difficult to promote dolphin meat as a safe dietary staple, especially since it is no longer harvested for subsistence. Dr. Pál Weihe, the Chief Physician at the Department of Occupational Medicine and Public Health in the Faroese Hospital System, has gone on record saying that the medical profession in the Faroes is recommending not to eat cetacean meat and that:

Silent pollution of the oceans will one day end up on the dinner table in some communities, and our children are paying the price.

Are the Faroe Islands hunts sustainable?

To date, no white-sided dolphin sustainability study has been conducted in the Faroe Islands. What’s interesting about this, when it comes to sustainability studies, is that both sides use the argument in their favor. Supporters of the hunt say that since sustainability studies have never been conducted, the hunt must obviously be sustainable since the dolphin populations haven’t been extirpated from their waters yet. But for conservationists, sustainability must first be proven before hunting animal populations—because environmental losses are permanent.

What’s especially troubling about this particular dolphin slaughter on September 12 is that, when compared to the Japanese government’s quota for the six-month Taiji dolphin capture and killing season, the number of dolphins taken was around three quarters of the entire Japanese quota. Killings to this degree simply can’t be conducted without strong scientific evidence as to whether the wild population can sustain such a large number of individuals being removed from the population as a result of directed hunts, especially considering other threats that also impact these dolphins.

What’s more, the killing is supposed to be painless and quick, but when conducted at this scale allows for cruel error: the whalers didn’t all have the legally required spinal lances and instead used knives. Even if used correctly, the lances can paralyze the animals but not immediately kill them, leaving them to bleed out on the banks—this includes pregnant mothers, juveniles, and weaning calves.

Hanne Strager, a Danish marine mammal biologist and science writer, concludes the argument on a poignant note:

Sustainability means more than just the question of the conservation status of a species and whether it can be hunted without threatening the local population or the species. When a hunt turns greedy and gluttonous it has lost all right to be called sustainable.

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