Rising tension between Faroe Islands and anti-whaling Sea Shepherd

Sea Shepherd’s Bob Barker vessel, with 21 activists on board, has been refused entry to the Faroe Islands by Danish authorities protecting whaling. 

A Faroese government statement said the decision was to protect “the legal and regulated activity of driving and killing pilot whales for food,” reported The Guardian. Sea Shepherd believes the action by Danish Customs at the port of Sund is unlawful.

Although Denmark is a member of the European Union that bans whaling, Denmark supports whaling in its Faroe Islands self-governing territory.

Faroe Island legislation on pilot whaling contains a provision that requires people to notify authorities of all migratory pilot whale sightings. With new laws, failure to do so, or obstructing the hunt, could now result in up to two years imprisonment or heavy fines.

The government has made it clear that this does not apply to tourists who fail to report a sighting, but applies to those involved in driving whales towards or away from shore without permission from authorities.

Sea Shepherd believes the new law is discriminatory and designed to stop their pilot whale protection activities.

Sea Shepherd activists found guilty

Sea Shepherd Global and five Sea Shepherd volunteers were found guilty of breaking the Faroe Islands’ Whaling Act after they tried to stop grind hunts at Bøur and Tórshavn in July that killed 250 pilot whales.

Whale hunters at Sandavagur beach killed 61 pilot whales after Sea Shepherd volunteers were outnumbered while attempting to drive the pod out to sea. Crew members were arrested by Danish police. Sea Shepherd believes tourists are unaware their sightings can lead to slaughter, because the pilot whale pod had been reported by a tourist helicopter.

Tension is rising in this confrontation between animal rights groups and the Faroese people.

Watching entire pods of intelligent mammals slaughtered while trapped and helpless in shallow waters is disturbing. For animal activists on the ground, their own helplessness to prevent the eventual slaughter can only worsen their despair.

Yet the Faroese are strongly defending what they see as an attack on their culture. Under constant public scrutiny and criticism, the Faroese dig their heels in harder. This year, despite more stringent licensing rules, more men have applied to take part in the grinds, thought to be a reaction against growing external opposition.

490 pilot whales killed since June

A total of 490 pilot whales have now been slaughtered on the Faroe Islands since June. This is bad news not only for pilot whale populations, but for the Faroese people.

It is claimed that animal welfare is paramount during the grinds, yet hunters are working in a natural environment with a wild animal struggling for life. There are risks to animal welfare from human error or inexperience, as well as from imperfect slaughter conditions. 

Although the long-finned pilot whale is not listed as endangered, it is not yet known what the effect is on the gene pool and breeding of killing entire pods. The oceans are polluted by mercury and PCB’s, which contaminate sea life right up the food chain. The impact of these toxins on whale behaviour, breeding and survival is not known, and healthy population numbers can quickly change. 

The Faroese government now advises people to limit whale meat consumption to 4kg per year, and children, women who are pregnant, breastfeeding, or who are planning pregnancy, are advised not to eat it at all. Consumption of contaminated meat has been linked to diseases, including Parkinson’s. If the meat is toxic, it would seem unwise to eat it, not just for health reasons, but for the financial burden of healthcare.

EU country opposition to whale hunts

While Netherlands based Sea Shepherd continues campaigning, there is growing opposition in EU countries to the grinds.

Wick, a coastal town in the north of Scotland was twinned with the Faroe Islands town of Klaksvik for 20 years, but has cut the tie to be disassociated from the pilot whale slaughter. Reported in The Guardian, councillors sent an email to Klaksvik mayor saying that Wick was opposed to the pilot whale grinds.

“We do not agree that these events and the apparent joy it gave the townspeople is in any way or should in any way be linked to tradition. There may have been reasons of culling for food in the past, but in 2015 it is unnecessary and cruel.”

Faroese tourism is starting to feel the effects of growing international concern. German cruise line companies Hapag-Lloyd and AIDA have temporarily halted stops at the Faroe Islands in protest of the hunts.

AIDA will now stop in Kirkvall on the Scottish Orkney Islands, “in the interest of our crew and our guests as well as for reasons for species protection,” AIDA spokesperson Dr Monika Griefahn told Sea Shepherd.

Eco-tourism would benefit economy and save whales

Tourists could be persuaded to return though, and in greater numbers. The hunt tradition could be replaced by eco-tourism that showcases the beautiful islands and wildlife, a tradition that would show the world the strength of the Faroese people in making changes that benefit their health, as well as pilot whale populations. The decision to end the pilot whale hunt rests with the Faroese people.

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Also published on The News Hub August 26, 2015