Whaling is currently an issue of hot international debate, and the whale hunts in the Faroe Islands are at the center of the controversy. (The Faroe Islands are a small archipelago in the North Atlantic Ocean, northwest of Scotland and halfway between Iceland and Norway).
The Faroese hunt pilot whales in a tradition known as the Grindadrap, (a.k.a the Grind); a non commercial whale hunt which occurs annually to provide a source of local food. However the international attention the nation has received has largely misrepresented the Faroese way of life, and many arguments made by protestors are often both incorrect and misleading.
Whale hunting in the Faroe Islands has received a bad reputation. But here’s what social media is getting wrong:
1. The Faore Islands are Danish and thus must abide by European Union laws.
The Faroe Islands are a self-governing country within the Danish Realm. They act independently of Denmark in all areas of self government, which includes the conservation and management of fish and whale stocks.
It is important to understand that an essential feature of the Faroese foreign policy is the fact that they chose to remain outside the European Union when Denmark chose to enter as a member state. So while Denmark is a member of the EU where whale hunting for commercial purposes has been prohibited through international treaties, the Faroe Islands are not.
The only thing that Denmark does in the Faroe Islands is to protect the island’s rights. The Faroese do not have a military force, so therefore the police are Danish. When people say the Danish military has become involved with the grind, the police have asked them for help. They are patrolling the sea area of the Faroe Islands protecting Danish Authority over Danish ground.
2. Whaling in the Faroe Islands is illegal.
Whaling in the Faroe Islands continues because it is legal. Whether or not you believe that it should be, these hunts are not against the law. There’s no room for opinion to try and claim otherwise even though many on social media do.
The grind is a non-commercial practice. The meat is not exported, but kept for the local community and distributed as free food (similar to whaling in Greenland or Alaska where the meat and blubber is harvested for their own consumption). Since there is no international trading, the islands are not in violation of international law.
As mentioned above, despite ties to Denmark, the islands do not form part of the European Union, and are therefore not party to international treaties which outlaw whaling.
3. The pilot whale hunted in the Faroe Islands is an endangered species.
Pilot whales are not an endangered species. They are not listed on the WWF endangered species list nor are they listed as endangered on the International Union for the Conservation of Nature’s Red List.
With an average of around 1,000 animals killed each year in the Faroe Islands, the practice is internationally considered sustainable. This represents less than 1% of the total estimated pilot whale stock.
4. The hunts are not humane.
Animal welfare is taken very seriously in the Faroe Islands. Legislation requires that all animals slaughtered for meat are killed as quickly and humanely as possible, and this law is strictly enforced. Claims that whales are bludgeoned and hacked to death are completely incorrect.
Whales are killed with a spinal lance called the grindaknivur. This is used to sever the spinal cord and cut off blood supply to the brain, resulting in a loss of consciousness and death within seconds. Only approved weapons and techniques are used, and these are constantly reviewed and developed to keep up with technological and academic advances.
The hunts are opportunistic — they only occur when whales are sighted by chance, and close enough to land to drive into the shores of shallow bays and beach. There is no disputing that they are killed in the sea, though the blood loss in the bays makes for a very dramatic sight. Images of this scene are captured and circulated online to provoke strong reactions, especially from those who have never witnessed the slaughter of animals from which the meat they consume derives.
No animal killed on the Faroe Islands is ever kept in an enclosure. Pilot whales are free right up until the point at which they are killed; the ultimate definition of free range and organic. They are never interfered with until the hunt.
5. The hunts are a cultural ritual.
The hunts are a tradition, not a ritual. And this is an important distinction. A tradition is a cultural element passed through generations. The Faroese have been hunting pilot whale for the past 1,200 years as a means of providing the local community with food.
A ritual, on the other hand, is a procedure or collection of processes relating to a rite or ceremony. And there is no ceremony or rite attached to the hunts. False statements on social media include that young people kill as a rite of passage into adulthood, that whales are hunted for fun, and that the this is a ritual blood sport. But this is completely incorrect.
The sole purpose of hunting pilot whales in the Faroe Islands has always been to provide the local community with food. And this will always continue to be.
6. Eating Pilot Whale is no longer necessary — there is plenty of food.
This one is open for argument. The mountainous islands and harsh conditions of the Faroes are largely unfit for agriculture, and as such, the islanders have historically depended on fishing, livestock…and whales. Severely isolated from the rest of the world, it was once vital that the Faroese were able to provide their own food, and pilot whales were instrumental to survival.
Though this no longer the case, it is important to note that whale meat does still represent about a quarter of the meat consumption in the Faroes, and as such remains economically significant. If the Faroese were to stop hunting whales, they would need to catch a lot more fish or kill other animals within their environment as replacement.
In an article focused on setting the record straight, Maria Jacobsen says “if the argument is specifically against the use of pilot whales as meat over the use of other animals as meat, then the argument seems redundant in itself. The use of pilot whales for meat allows for free range, organic and sustainable food production that is humanely and ethically sourced, heavily monitored and regulated, and locally produced, eliminating environmental transportation costs. When this meat source is compared with the industrial farming practices of large-scale meat producers that would likely replace it, the environmental and ethical issues are hugely overshadowed.”
7. The best way to protest is through provocative anti-whaling campaigns.
The problem with provocative anti-whaling campaigns such as those mounted by the Sea Shepherd is that they are unfair in their approach, and highly counterproductive. Hate speech plagues social media, propaganda quickly spreads, and myth and misinformation is intentionally circulated online. Though this only strengthens the desire of Faroese nationalists to hold onto their cultural heritage, and the result is more polarization on the issue.
Activists insist that whalers are morally wrong to slaughter pilot whales, though whalers stand firm in that they refuse to be bullied by outsiders trying to impose their own world view.
The willingness of activists in the Faroe Islands to break the law by interfering with the hunts has resulted in imprisonment, deportation, and the discussion of a ban of members of the Sea Shepherd organization. And this is a shame, as these stories overshadow and frustrate the efforts of peaceful organizations who are protesting on the islands with valid points and respectful methods.
Those who become swept up in a war of words and desire to attack the character of the Faroese as a society have lost sight of their cause and forgotten about the whales they should be fighting to save. Name calling has never saved a whale. The only way to make a positive impact through protesting in this scenario is a willingness to engage in reasoned, diplomatic discourse.