Hundreds of Pilot Whales Killed in Annual Hunt

Anti-whaling activists are arrested as they try to stop the slaughter in the Faroe Islands.
Jul 24, 2015·
Emily J. Gertz is an associate editor for environment and wildlife at TakePart.

The conservation group Sea Shepherd today released graphic video of a whale hunt in the Faroe Islands in the North Atlantic ocean.

The footage depicted a dozen small boats as they quickly drove a pod of dark-colored whales toward the shore of a town.

On the beach, two police officers threw a third person, apparently an anti-whaling activist, down onto the sand. As they begin to drag him further inland, a crowd surged past them and into the surf just as the boats herded dozens of whales into the shallows.

The rest of the video shows the water turning red with blood as the whales are slaughtered. Some of the animals appear small enough to be juveniles.

This annual hunt, called the grindadráp, or grind, goes back about 1,200 years in Faroe Islands culture, with continual records going back to 1584. An official Faroe Islands whaling information site notes that blubber and meat collected from the whales is shared within the community where they are killed, although by some reports they can also be sold in restaurants. In 2014, the grind caught 53 pilot whales, while in 2013 it caught 1,104, according to the site.

“Unofficially, we know pilot whale meat is sold in supermarkets in the Faroe Islands,” said Michelle Mossfield, the media director for Sea Shepherd Global, “although commercial sales aren’t the main driver” of the hunt.

Sea Shepherd has been campaigning against the grind since 1985. The group argues that a contemporary Western society no longer needs to hunt and kill whales for food. “We acknowledge that the Farorese people in days gone by relied on pilot whales, but those days are long gone,” Mossfield said.

“Being here and seeing the high standard of living the people enjoy here has really increased my conviction that this hunt isn’t necessary,” she added.

The Faroe Islands are an autonomous protectorate of Denmark, which is one of the world’s top-ranking nations for quality of life.

The group also opposes the brutal methods used in the hunt, which are much like a dolphin hunt in Japan that has been criticized worldwide since an Oscar-winning 2009 documentary, The Cove, brought it to mainstream attention.

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Sea Shepherd International identified the town in the video as Bøur and said that Danish police arrested two of its activists there amid the killing of 111 pilot whales: Rosie Kunneke of South Africa, and Christophe Bondue of Belgium.

“Seeing Rosie and Christophe thrown to the ground today for defending these whales, and then dragged away as the carnage began, was an absolutely heart-wrenching,” Captain Alex Cornelissen, chief executive of Sea Shepherd Global, said in a statement.

Seven Sea Shepherd staffers have been arrested this week, said Mossfield, out of roughly two dozen members currently on land in the islands, as well as two ships crewed by 36 people in Faroese waters. She estimated that 250 pilot whales were killed on Thursday at two sites in the Faroe Islands.

“It’s been an incredibly trying time seeing our colleagues being arrested. And then, of course, the slaughters on top of that,” Mossfield said.

“But anecdotally, we do have encounters with Faroese here who give us support,” she added. “I don’t think any of us would be here if we didn’t think positive change was possible.”

According to the American Cetacean Society, pilot whales are especially vulnerable to the type of “drive fishery” harvest practiced by the Faroese because they are very social animals, typically traveling together in groups of 20 to 90 animals.

“The whales have been killed for meat, bone, fertilizer, and oil,” according to the society website. “In some places, such as the Faroe Islands, the kill continues today despite an obvious decrease in whale numbers.”