Faroese have been been known for their annual dolphin hunt since Viking times. A recent poll by broadcaster Kringvarp Føroya, published on Monday, 20 September, revealed that 53% of the 53,000 islanders now oppose the killing of white-sided dolphins. More than 83%, however, still support the killing of pilot whales.
The traditional practice stems from Viking times and was already regulated in the oldest preserved Faroese law, dating back to 1298. Today, islanders primarily hunt pilot whales, the second largest species of oceanic dolphin. All pilot whale killings have been officially recorded since 1584. Since 2000, approximately 600 pilot whales and 211 white-sided dolphins have been killed annually in the Faroes.
The dolphin hunt has been adapted in recent years through including a newly designed tool that is said to make the killing more humane. Furthermore, a law was introduced that makes it mandatory for everyone killing an animal to take a special course and get a license. The hunt in itself still remains the same: when a group of pilot whales is spotted, it gets herded into one of 28 approved bays by boats, before being are dragged onto land and killed. The meat is then shared between the hunters and the local community.
The recent hunting of 1,428 white-sided dolphins in one day (more than six times the number usually killed in an entire year), however, has shocked locals and people all over the world. Some locals argued that there were too few people to handle the dolphins, making the killings take too long. Additionally, news outlets report that the more humane harpoon tool wasn’t used either as it is too big for the species. Instead, the white-sided dolphins were killed with knives.
The international outcry following the mass dolphin hunt has prompted a debate about whether to kill the smaller dolphin at all. On Thursday, 16 September, the government of the Faroe Islands said that it would “start an evaluation of the regulations on the catching of Atlantic white-sided dolphins”, noting that white-sided dolphin hunts “have not been a part of Faroese tradition to the same degree” as pilot whales. Prime minister Bárður á Steig Nielsen said: “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. The government has decided to start an evaluation of the regulations on the catching of Atlantic white-sided dolphins.”
Rob Read, COO at Sea Shepherd UK, commented: “For such a hunt to take place in 2021 in a very wealthy European island community just 230 miles from the UK with no need or use for such a vast quantity of contaminated meat is outrageous.”
“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 Captain Alex Cornelissen, Sea Shepherd Global CEO. “If we have learned anything from this pandemic is that we have to live in harmony with nature instead of wiping it out.”
Sea Shepherd argues that the recent killing wasn’t properly authorised, while many of the boats involved didn’t have a license. Furthermore, as the blubber of the white-sided dolphin doesn’t usually get eaten and there is simply more dolphin meat from this hunt than anyone wants to take, the dolphin meat is being offered to other districts in the hopes of not having to dump it.
Although the dolphin hunt is unlikely to fully stop in the near future, the hunting of white-sided dolphins might cease naturally if the local population turns against it. Furthermore, it needs to be seen how and if the prime minister’s pledge to review the killing will change the nature of this tradition.
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Photography courtesy of Unsplash.