In a parked car overlooking the ocean sit two of the biggest whale killers in the Faroe Islands. They look exhausted, but not from hunting. Ólavur Sjúrðaberg, 75, and Hans J Hermansen, 73, have been on the phone constantly since a mass killing of 1,428 white-sided dolphins in the Faroe Islands on Sunday sparked international outrage and led to the islands’ prime minister. Faroe to announce on Thursday that the government would review dolphin hunt.
Neither Sjúrðaberg nor Hermansen participated in the killing, but they are the current and former president of the Faroe Islands Whalers Association, founded in 1992 to explain and defend the traditional killing of whales on the islands, known as the “grind”, and ensure that it is as efficient and respectful as possible.
But while more than 83% of the 53,000 islanders still support the killing of pilot whales, which are also a species of dolphin, 53% oppose killing the white-sided dolphin, according to a poll published Monday by the broadcaster. Kringvarp Føroya. .
“We are fighting on one more front now,” Sjúrðaberg said as Hermansen answered another call, referring to the fact that so many Faroese islands are against the slaughter of white-faced dolphins. “We have to assess the killing every time, even when it may not go according to plan.”
The people of the Faroe Islands have been killing whales and dolphins since Viking times, and the practice was even regulated in the the oldest surviving Faroese law, dating back to 1298. Virtually all whaling in the modern era has involved pilot whales. Pilot whales are the second largest species of oceanic dolphins, surpassed in size only by the killer whale. All pilot whale killings have been officially recorded since 1584, and since 2000, an average of around 660 pilot whales and 211 white-faced dolphins have died each year on the islands.
Hunting has adapted in recent years, including a special tool designed to make the killing as humane as possible, and a law that requires everyone who kills an animal to take a course on how to do it correctly and have a license. .
But, in essence, it remains the same: if a group of pilot whales is detected, a flotilla of boats sets sail and takes them to one of the 28 legally approved bays. So any islander who wants to can help get the whales ashore. For pilot whales, they use the special harpoon-shaped tool, which cuts through the spinal cord and kills the animal immediately. Subsequently, the meat is shared between the hunters and the local community.
Sunday’s hunt, however, surprised many Faroese: the scale of the slaughter (1,428 in one day) is more than six times the usual number of deaths in an entire year.
Some locals have criticized the killing because there were too few people to handle the dolphins and say it took too long.
Also, the more humane harpoon used to kill pilot whales was not used because it is too large for the smaller white-sided dolphin. Instead, they killed the creatures with knives.
Eyðstein Zachariasen was one of the hunters. He said the pod was at 600 dolphins and estimated that the slaughter would not have taken place if the hunters had known there were more than 1,400 animals. “I don’t think we will stop killing white-faced dolphins for this,” Zachariasen said. “But I also believe that this massacre will go down in history as the greatest. I don’t think they will kill many again. “
Even if they underestimated the numbers, it is unclear why the hunters made the decision to kill such a large group. Some Faroese argue that the hunt leaders showed little judgment, perhaps due to inexperience.
Regardless, the protest has crystallized a growing debate on the islands over whether to kill the smallest dolphin. the Faroese government said “An evaluation of the regulations on the capture of Atlantic coast white dolphins would be initiated”, noting that the hunting of white coast dolphins “has not been part of the tradition of the Faroe Islands to the same degree” as pilot whales. .
Prime Minister Bárður á Steig Nielsen said: “We take this matter very seriously. Although these hunts are considered sustainable, we will take a closer look at dolphin hunts and the role they should play in Faroese society. “
Jóan Pauli Joensen, professor of cultural history and author of several books on the culinary traditions of the Faroe Islands, said: “The tradition of killing pilot whales in the Faroe Islands does not include killing white-faced dolphins. Although the kill of white-faced dolphins was recorded in 1872, the numbers have never been comparable to hunting pilot whales, and it usually only happened when a stray mixed with pilot whales.
“The white-sided dolphin is smaller and faster, and it is not until modern times with speedboats that it has been killed in greater numbers,” said Joensen. Because only a fraction of the Faroe Islands eat the smallest dolphins, few support or have a relationship with hunting, he said.
Most people also do not eat the fat of smaller dolphins. Grease is one of the most essential parts of the pilot whale. “People eat fat with dried, fermented fish,” Joensen said, referring to two key parts of traditional Faroese cuisine.
Criticism of Sunday’s massacre has been fierce, both locally and internationally. The Conservation Group Sea shepherd He said Sunday’s hunt was “the largest slaughter of dolphins or pilot whales in the history of the islands.” He noted that more animals died on Sunday than in an entire season in Taiji, Japan, which is known for its dolphin hunt.
The largest company in the Faroe Islands, the Bakkafrost salmon farming company, issued a statement denouncing the “massacre”, saying that the company “condemns this episode and finds it totally unacceptable”. CEO Regin Jacobsen told Faroe Islands radio that the company had received complaints from customers around the world.
Some locals took to social media to express their displeasure, including a commenter on Kringvarp Føroya’s Facebook page who said: “I am ashamed to be Faroese.”
Schandorff Vang, 63, a retired police officer, witnessed the massacre. “There were not enough people on the ground for the slaughter,” he said. “Some whales were stranded for too long before being killed.”
He also questioned the hunt for the white dolphin. “I have nothing against killing pilot whales, but I don’t think there is any tradition for killing dolphins, and I don’t like the fact that so much of the blubber is not eaten,” he said.
Although hunters are used to criticism, the reaction seems to have taken some by surprise. Zacariasen said he was puzzled by the debate. “I understand that foreigners have a more special relationship with the dolphin than with the pilot whale,” he said. “But for the people of the Faroe Islands, the two animals should have the same value.
“For me, the only difference is that the meat of the white-sided dolphin tastes better.” He argues that although the white-faced dolphin population is less well known than that of the pilot whale, the killing remains sustainable in terms of numbers.
Sjúrðaberg and Hermansen believe that Sunday’s massacre went wrong. Sjúrðaberg grew up in Klaksvík, where he says hunters only killed white-sided dolphins when they were caught in a pod of pilot whales; Hermansen is from Hvalvík, where he remembers some dolphins being killed when he was a child. But they both agree that as long as the hunt is done correctly, all parts of the animal are eaten, and the numbers are sustainable, then killing white-sided dolphins is fine.
But they are also aware that while Sunday’s massacre is unlikely to stop dolphin hunting, the writing may be on the wall. “We are killing both whales for food consumption,” Sjúrðaberg said. “But if the majority of the population turns against killing white-sided dolphins, it will naturally stop, as people will not want to eat them.”