It has been a good year for whales and dolphins in Shetland but not in the Faroes says PETER FROST
It had been a good year for spotting whales and other marine mammals in the Shetland Islands this summer. As well as small pods of over a dozen different species there have been some really spectacular sightings.
In July a huge pod of white sided Atlantic dolphins (Lagenorhynchus acutus) were seen in the waters between Shetland and Fair Isle. Reports ranged from “Thousands” to more reliable scientific sightings reporting between 500 and 800 animals.
Nearly three dozen pilot whales (Globicephala melas) were seen by various observers from the cliffs of Shetland’s Mainland.
Scores of sightings of the rare Risso’s dolphins (Grampus griseus) usually in groups of two, three or up to six, were reliably reported by the islands’ many whale watchers.
Shetland’s marine mammal fans note dates, locations, species, age and gender. If they are lucky they may snatch a photograph.
Just two hundred miles north of Shetland however, in the Danish Protectorate of the Faroe Islands they do things differently.
There, visiting pods of the same three species, many no doubt the very same individuals spotted in Shetland waters, are driven into shallow bays and bloodily slaughtered.
At the end of July 267 pilot whales were slaughtered at Fuglafjordur, Esturoy and on November 1 this year Faroes islanders drove a pod of 85 pilot whales into the bay at Hvannasund on the Island of Vidoy and killed them all.
In all 1,069 pilot whales have now been killed in the 2013 season, far more than the 713 pilot whales killed in 2012. This brings the total to over 3,500 since the beginning of 2010.
Another massacre occurred in August at Hvalba, and involved the killing of 430 white-sided dolphins, almost certainly part of the same huge pod that had been seen between Shetland and Fair Isle. This is the largest single kill of dolphins since 1994.
These slaughters are called Grindadrap, often known as Grinds. Amazingly all this slaughter is done in the name of religion and cultural tradition.
The Faeroese hold the absurd belief that God gave the whales to the islanders to be slaughtered. They claim Grinds are part of their strict Lutheran Christian beliefs and culture.
A Grind hunt starts when fishing boats or ferries offshore sight a pod of pilot whales or dolphins. The pod is driven into a bay by fishing boats, motor boats and even jet skis.
The pod is forced onto the beach or pulled up with ropes. The hunters use a blunt hook called a soknargul in the animal’s blowhole.
The men and boys wade into the bloody waters and plunge blades into the whales’ bodies until the spinal cord is severed. It usually takes some time for the mammal to die.
The whales are stoned, speared, stabbed, slashed, and clubbed as the bloodlust reaches a crescendo. This community blood sport even involves young children participating in the killing.
The pursuit and beaching of these animals is extremely terrifying and stressful for these intelligent mammals. Mothers, babies, pregnant females — the entire cetacean family is killed and the waters turn blood red for hours.
If you believe the Faroese Government the meat and blubber is supposed to be divided among local residents as subsistence food. In reality some of the whale meat ends up in restaurants for consumption by tourists.
Doctors in the islands have warned that women of child-bearing age and children, should not eat the heavily polluted meat. As a result, after large Grinds have taken place much of the meat and the carcasses are thrown back into the ocean.
Make no mistake, this isn’t about tradition, or culture or food. It is simply a chance to enjoy the bloody slaughter of magnificent animals. That is why it must be stopped.
Contact the newly appointed Danish Ambassador Claus Grube and tell him to stop this outrage.
Embassy of Denmark in the United Kingdom
55 Sloane Street
Tel 020 7333 0200
This article first appeared in the Morning Star