What was called the largest slaughter of dolphins in the history of the Faroe Islands has led to massive criticism not only from animal rights activists, but from whalers themselves. However, bioeticians have pointed out the somewhat contradictory and not always logical attitude to killing animals for food.
Following an outcry over the mass slaughter of over 1,400 dolphins in a single day, as social media and news outlets across the globe were flooded with gory footage, the Faroese government has pledged to review the way the traditional hunts are carried out.
Last week’s slaughter, labelled the largest in history, was so great in scope, compared with previous years, that even professional whalers and trade union leaders, who ordinarily do their best to protect the age-old tradition, criticised the unnecessary brutality and unwanted attention, venturing that it could be the death knell of whale hunts.
Eco-activists and animal rights groups emphasised that the cull was so large that regulations in place to minimise the suffering of animals were not necessarily observed.
“We take this matter very seriously. Although these hunts are considered sustainable, we will be looking closely at the dolphin hunts, and what part they should play in Faroese society”, Faroese Premier Bardur á Steig Nielsen said in a statement.
Whaling in the Faroe Islands is a hunting tradition dating back to the Viking Age. For hundreds of years, sea mammals – primarily pilot whales, humpback whales, and dolphins – have been killed for their meat and blubber. Each year, the Faroese drive herds of the mammals into shallow fjords, subsequently stabbing them to death using traditional equipment such as a blowhole hook. The hunts are carried out on a non-commercial basis, as the catch is then distributed among the community.
Each year, the web explodes with gruesome footage and demands to stop the practice, seen as cruel and largely out of date. The Faroese government, however, called the whale drives a dramatic sight only to people “unfamiliar with the slaughter of mammals”, assuring that the hunts well organised and fully regulated.
The former chairman of the Faroese Whaling Association, Hans Jacob Hermansen, maintained that it was no different from killing cattle or anything else. “It’s just that we have an open abattoir”, he said.
Faroese MP Sjúrdur Skaale, while himself criticial of the recent cull in Skálafjørdur, hit back at the accusations by citing Denmark’s pork industry, which is one of the world’s largest.
“In Denmark, 30 million pigs are kept in captivity. Intelligent animals that live and die in captivity, living on a concrete floor. It is far worse than both whale killing and dolphin killing”, he told Danish Radio.
Bioetician Mickey Gjerris from Copenhagen University, in turn, emphasised the not-always-equally-logical relationship to animal killing.
“Had it been 1,400 pigs, then we would have been whistling indifferently, for we are used to killing them, while dolphins are seen as very intelligent animals. There is a completely different narrative. It’s a bit like if they had taken puppies and kittens”, Gjerris said.
Turid Nolsøe from Copenhagen University, ventured that the massive criticism of whaling from the outside has had the opposite effect, leading many Faroese to stick to the hunts as a unique expression of their culture.
“The tradition might have died out if you didn’t keep focusing on it. It is a challenge to one’s identity that one feels it necessary to defend it”, Nolsøe mused.
The Faroes are an archipelago of 18 rocky islands, located halfway between Norway, Scotland, and Iceland. At 55,000 inhabitants, it is part of the Danish Realm.