Cruise Lines Shun Faroe Islands to Protest Whale Slaughter

Environmentalists applaud German companies’ decision to stop sending tourists to the site of an annual slaughter of pilot whales.
(Photo: Reuters)
Aug 10, 2015· 2 MIN READ
David Kirby has been a professional journalist for 25 years. His third book, Death at Seaworld, was published in 2012.

Meet the whales’ newest protector: the cruise industry.

Executives at two major German cruise lines—Hapag-Lloyd and AIDA—said Monday they would stop sending their tourist-packed ships to the Faroe Islands in protest of the annual slaughter of pilot whales in the remote North Atlantic archipelago known for its stark beauty and bloody traditional hunts. The move is a blow to the islands, which depends on tourism revenue.

“Hapag-Lloyd Cruises is committed to treating flora, fauna, and the marine ecosystem as well as all its creatures with respect,” Karl J. Pojer, the company’s chief executive, said in an email. “We protect what fascinates us—it is therefore high in the interests of the company that whaling on the Faroe Islands is stopped.”

The cruise lines also cited a new Faroe Islands law requiring anyone who spots whales to report the animals to local officials as a reason to take the destination off their ships’ itineraries.

Hapag-Lloyd had already reduced the number of ships scheduled to visit the Faroes, Pojer said, with only one cruise slated for next year. The company is trying to find an alternative destination for that trip.

Monika Griefahn, AIDA’s chief sustainability officer, said in an email that her company “expressly dissociates itself from whaling. Species conservation is an integral part of our sustainability strategy. Thus, AIDA Cruises has decided to cease approaching the Faroe Islands until further notice.”

Whale hunts are permitted in 22 Faroese bays, where up to 120 pilot whales can be killed at a time. According to Sea Shepherd, 1,200 pilot whales are killed during the hunt season.

The hunt is also used to draw tourists to the islands, according to the website Visit Faroe Islands.

“The pilot whale hunt in the Faroes is, by its very nature, a dramatic sight,” it states. “Entire schools of whales are killed on the shore and in the shallows of bays with knives which are used to sever the major blood supply to the brain.”

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“It’s not something we want to hide," Brynhild Weihe, an office assistant at Visit Faroe Islands said in an email. "Some people express doubts about coming to the Faroe Islands because they don’t know what to think of the whaling that is done here, and so we want to make sure they can read about the main facts. This doesn’t mean we want them to come here for this reason."

In the past two years, Hapag-Lloyd and AIDA wrote to the Faroese prime minister expressing their concerns about the whale hunt, or grindadráp.

A Hapag-Lloyd official, who asked not to be identified because she was not authorized to speak with the media, said the company never received a response.

The letters prompted Sea Shepherd, the environmental group that has been trying to halt the whale hunt since the early 1980s, to contact the companies, calling on them to suspend cruises to the islands. Sea Shepherd highlighted a recently passed law making it a crime not to report whale sightings to local authorities.

“Authorities are quoted as saying that these reports can be decisive in determining whether or not the spotted whales are subjected to traditional whaling,” said AIDA’s Griefahn.

A court last week convicted five Sea Shepherd volunteers of violating the Faroe Islands law by trying to stop the slaughter of 250 pilot whales on July 23. They face fines or up to two weeks in jail.

“We were very delighted to hear the news,” Rosie Kunneke, land crew leader for Sea Shepherd in the Faroes, said in a telephone interview from the islands. “This puts pressure on the cruise industry, who might want to reconsider what people are doing to the animals here.”

Several other cruise lines still operate in the islands, Kunneke said, including Princess, Royal Caribbean, Crystal, and Holland America.

“We’re hoping that the world gets to know about the hunt and that customers demand that these companies do not come here anymore,” Kunneke said.

Courtney Vail, campaigns and programs manager for Whale and Dolphin Conservation, said that “ethics-based corporate responsibility” is one way to help stop the killing.

The cruise industry has been much criticized by conservationists for polluting the world’s oceans. But recently it has made efforts to appear more attuned to ethical concerns. Carnival, for instance, announced in June that it would launch a cruise line that lets passengers perform community service in the countries they visit.

“We believe in the power of consumer choice to help guide and reform national and global environmental and animal welfare policies,” Vail said in an email. “It is a shame that such a beautiful destination continues to be marred by the shadow of these bloody hunts.”