Danish Police Arrest Sea Shepherd Team Trying to Stop Faroe Islands Whale Slaughter

Islanders kill 33 pilot whales, but Sea Shepherd says it has saved 270 others.
(Photo: Reuters)
Aug 31, 2014· 2 MIN READ
David Kirby has been a professional journalist for 25 years. His third book, Death at Seaworld, was published in 2012.

The Royal Danish Navy arrested 14 volunteers from the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society on Saturday for trying to intervene in the slaughter of 33 pilot whales in the Faroe Islands, a protectorate of Denmark.

A team of six Sea Shepherd volunteers spotted a pod of pilot whales from shore on Sandoy Island in the remote North Atlantic archipelago on Saturday and alerted Sea Shepherd’s small flotilla of boats, which has been patrolling the icy waters for nearly three months. Sea Shepherd has been trying to stop the annual Faroese whale hunt known as grindadráp, or grind.

During the grind, islanders drive pilot whales and other dolphins into shallow bays, where the animals are butchered to the cheers of locals watching from shore.

On Saturday, Sea Shepherd volunteers arrived at the beach where the whales were spotted before the whalers could reach the site. The Royal Danish Navy immediately dispatched a helicopter and high-speed inflatable boats to the island and arrested the six land-based volunteers who had waded into the water to protect the whales as well as eight crew members aboard three Sea Shepherd vessels. The boats and all camera and video equipment were confiscated, according to Sea Shepherd's Paul Watson.

“There is a new law in the islands that says unauthorized people must stay at least one mile away from the grind,” said Watson in a phone interview. “Our attorney advised us to say we were only there as observers, but we said, ‘Absolutely not.’ We aren’t there to observe. We’re there to try and stop the killing.”

Sea Shepherd’s antiwhaling campaign in the Faroes, dubbed “Operation GrindStop 2014,” deploys drones and live video feeds to document the slaughter while land- and sea-based volunteers attempt to drive the whales away from their would-be killers. (The Faroe Islands campaign is funded in part by the Skoll Foundation, part of the Jeff Skoll Group, which includes Participant Media, TakePart’s parent company.)

The 14 volunteers have been released and their possessions returned, except for the data cards in their photography equipment. The six land-based team members are scheduled to appear in court on Monday, while the eight sea-based crew members will not have a hearing until Sept. 25.

According to Sea Shepherd, the government wants to hold the vessels as evidence until then.

One of the boats is a 40-foot Zodiac, the BS Sheen, donated by actor Charlie Sheen.

“The Faroese whalers brutally slaughtered an entire pod of 33 pilot whales today,” Sheen said in a statement. “I am proud that a vessel bearing my name was there and did all it could to try to stop this atrocity.”

Denmark, he added, “is complicit in the killing.”

Watson noted that Denmark’s defense of the whalers violates its commitment as a European Union member to oppose whaling.

“One good thing is that this gives us concrete evidence of the Danish navy and police supporting the grind,” said Watson. “The Faroes are not part of the EU, but they are a Danish protectorate. They get EU subsidies through Denmark. This now gives us a case to take to the European Parliament for a complaint.”

Despite the whale slaughter and the arrests, Watson said this season has been a success for Sea Shepherd and the whales.

“It was inevitable that they’d have a whale kill, but we managed to stop them for the past 85 days,” he said.

Watson said Sea Shepherd diverted 270 whales from the islands over the summer.

In 2010, whalers killed 964 whales, and last year the number rose to 1,360. This season’s toll has only been the 33 pilot whales, along with five beached beaked whales that were slaughtered by islanders.

“Many Danes continue to argue that Denmark is not a whaling nation,” Watson wrote on his Facebook page. “The actions of the Danish Navy and the Danish police demonstrate that Denmark is very much a whaling nation.”