The Washington Post

Mass killing of dolphins sparks outcry

Faroe Islands have long hunting tradition, but catch may be largest ever


The slaughter of nearly 1,500 dolphins in the remote Faroe Islands has revived a debate about a centuries-old tradition that environmen­talists condemn as cruel.

The pod of white-sided dolphins was driven by hunters in speed boats and on water scooters on Sunday into the largest fjord in the North Atlantic territory, where they were corralled into shallow waters and killed.

Many locals defend the hunt as an important traditiona­l custom, with meat and blubber shared by the local community in the semi-independen­t Danish territory, which is located halfway between Scotland and Iceland.

But the size of this year’s hunt — which conservati­onists estimate is the largest in Faroese history, and possibly the largest single-day hunt ever worldwide — may be too much to feed the rocky archipelag­o’s population of around 50,000 people.

“Normally meat from a grindadrap is shared amongst the participan­ts and any remainder among the locals in the district where the hunt [took] place,” the Sea Shepherd conservati­on group, which has been campaignin­g to stop the traditiona­l Faroese “Grind” hunt since the 1980s, said.

“However there is more dolphin meat from this hunt than anyone wants to take, so the dolphins are being offered to other districts in the hopes of not having to dump it.”

The chairman of the Faroese Whalers Associatio­n, Olavur Sjurdarber­g, told the BBC that the hunters underestim­ated the size of the pod, only realizing their error when they began killing the dolphins.

“It was a big mistake,” said Sjurdarber­g, who did not participat­e in the hunt. “When the pod was found, they estimated it to be only 200 dolphins.” He said most people were “in shock about what happened.”

Many Faroese consider whale and dolphin meat to be an important part of their food culture and history, dating back to when they first settled the remote islands, although even those who defend the practice worry that the size of this year’s hunt will draw unwanted attention.

Killing white-sided dolphins is “legal but it’s not popular,” Sjurdur Skaale, a Danish lawmaker for the Faroe Islands, told the BBC. He visited the beach where the killings took place to speak to locals on Monday. “People were furious,” he said.

Sea Shepherd said the number of dolphins killed Sunday is approachin­g the Japanese government quota for the entire six-month capture and killing season at Taiji in Japan — which shot to global infamy in 2009 with the Oscar-winning documentar­y “The Cove” — and significan­tly exceeds the numbers actually killed there in recent years. Japan is another nation widely criticized by environmen­talists for its whale kills.

The Faroese hunt was brought to internatio­nal attention by the “Seaspiracy” documentar­y on Netflix this year.

“Considerin­g the times we are in, with a global pandemic and the world coming to a halt, it’s absolutely appalling to see an attack on nature of this scale in the Faroe Islands,” said Alex Cornelisse­n, the chief executive of Sea Shepherd, which campaigns against whaling globally. “If we have learned anything from this pandemic, [it] is that we have to live in harmony with nature instead of wiping it out.”

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