The Faroe Islands government has said it will conduct a review of dolphin hunting in its waters after the slaughter of 1,428 sea mammals caused global outrage.
Photos and footage showing bloody carcasses of Atlantic white-sided dolphins on a beach on the central Faroese island of Eysturoy sparked calls for the traditional hunt to be banned.
The annual hunt, known as the grindadráp or grind, has been part of local culture and tradition for 400 years and sees locals drive dolphins or whales into a harbour for a mass slaughter.
But the sheer scale of this year’s event – much larger than previous years - caused shock and was even condemned by some supporters of the hunt.
Sea Shepherd, a US-based conservation group which has long campaigned for the hunt to be banned, claimed this year’s grind was carried out by some unlicensed locals who may not have followed regulations to minimise the animals’ suffering.
Faroese premier Bardur a 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 sea mammals are killed for their meat and blubber in the archipelago of 18 rocky islands situated 230 miles north-west of mainland Scotland, part of the kingdom of Denmark.
White-sided dolphins and pilot whales – which are also killed on the islands – are not classed as endangered species.
After being driven into shallow waters, hunters secure the whales using a blow-hole hook and sever their spine and main artery leading to the brain with a knife.
The practice turns the surrounding water red with blood which makes for graphic scenes.
The drives are regulated by law and the meat and blubber are shared on a community basis.
But environmental activists argue the practice of slaughtering dolphins and whales is cruel and should be outlawed.
A local activist from Sea Shepherd filmed the hunt and on Wednesday the international animal rights group said it hoped pressure would build from within the Faroe Islands to end its traditional drive of sea mammals.
Following Sunday’s hunt, some Faroese people spoke out against the way it was conducted and said they feared it would draw unwanted attention to the quiet islands.
The Faroe Islands government said the “whale drives are a dramatic sight to people unfamiliar with the slaughter of mammals. The hunts are, nevertheless, well-organised and fully regulated. Faroese animal welfare legislation, which also applies to whaling, stipulates that animals shall be killed as quickly and with as little suffering as possible”.
The former chairman of the Faroese association behind the drives, Hans Jacob Hermansen, told The Associated Press on Wednesday it was no different “from killing cattle or anything else. It’s just that we have an open abattoir”.
Bakkefrost CEO Regin Jacobsen called Sunday’s slaughter “totally unacceptable”.
The chief of the Faroese company that owns one of Scotland's largest fish farm firms said his group was not involved in the controversial hunt and none of its assets were used.
Islanders catch, on average, some 250 white-sided dolphins per year, and the annual catch of pilot whales averages 600, according to the Faeroese government.