WARNING — CONFRONTING IMAGES: Hundreds of whales and dolphins swimming too close to the shores of a European island are killed each year, turning the water red with blood.
Shocking images show large groups of men driving steel poles into the animals’ blow holes, carrying out what they argue is a cultural Faroe Islands' practice that dates back hundreds of years.
While animal welfare groups have called for the hunting drives to be banned, a Faroe Islands whale researcher told Yahoo News Australia these campaigns have only “strengthened” the resolve of locals to continue their tradition. But he revealed there are two issues that could ultimately see the practice stopped.
Dolphin and whale kills by the numbers
In 2021, close to 1500 dolphins were killed when a super pod was intercepted by hunters. This year there have been two separate slaughters:
May 8 — Approximately 12 pilot whales killed
May 16 — 47 adult long-finned pilot whales and 8 foetuses killed.
The hunts are expected to continue throughout the warmer months. This is the first in a series of articles looking deeper into what’s known on the Faroe Islands as the grindadráp or “killing of whales”.
Local man explains why he eats whale
Bjarni Mikkelsen is a marine mammal biologist at the Havstovan Faroe Marine Research Institute and a member of the North Atlantic Marine Mammal Commission (NAMMCO).
The 55-year-old has lived on the island, an autonomous Danish territory, for most of his life and like many locals enjoys the taste of whale, and the wild harvested meat is something he often prefers to supermarket food.
“You can eat it dried, or as salted meat blubber with boiled potatoes,” he said. “It’s very tasty.”
One simple reason Faroese could stop eating whale
Mr Mikkelsen said it will not be “people from the outside” who dictate to the Faroese how they should behave. “We are very proud of this practice and we will continue as long as we decide,” he said.
He believes one reason whale hunting could end is that young people will find more interest in going to cafés or other modern activities. But he doesn’t believe that will happen any time soon.
One of those campaigning against the grindadráp is Sea Shepherd UK's Chief Operating Officer Rob Read. He believes external pressure is needed to stop the hunts because locals are indoctrinated into the tradition at a young age.
“They take toddlers and children… and when you’re bringing them to watch these hunts and the majority of people doing the killing are men in their 20s and 30s, there is a coming of age thing going on,” he said.
“It generates social media posts from people taking part, celebrating with big smiles on their faces, covered in blood and with a knife in each hand.”
Deadly chemical could stop whale hunts
Another more pressing concern is the contaminants found in whales and dolphins. As apex predators, the flesh of large mammals is contaminated with mercury, leading to warnings it should be eaten sparingly and children and pregnant women should avoid it altogether.
“It’s a very sad situation for the Faroese. We have a traditional food source that we get for free… but then it’s heavily polluted,” he said. “It’s not polluted in the Faroe Islands… it’s mainland Europe and globally. And then this pollution is concentrated in whales that we eat.”
Mr Mikkelsen believes that mercury levels have stabilised, but PFAS chemicals continue to be a concern. But he argues the Faroese will face other issues like obesity if they ditch traditional foods and switch to burgers and Coca-Cola.
Sea Shepherd’s Mr Read believes whale meat is dangerous and it should be banned.
“Worse than that, it is sold in restaurants and supermarkets both to Faroese people and tourists with no health warnings at all. And yet they know it is contaminated meat," he said.
"The meat from the pilot whales and the dolphins is so toxic, they just shouldn't be eating it full-stop. There's a reason why it's illegal in the (European Union), and many other countries around the world."
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