Outcry over slaughter of 1,428 dolphins in the Faroe Islands

The traditional hunt has been part of the Faroese culture and history for more than 400 years

Some of the 1,428 dolphins who were killed in the Faroe Islands as part of a traditional hunt on Sunday. Photo: Sea Shepherd via AP
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The slaughter of 1,428 white-sided dolphins in the Faroe Islands, the largest marine hunt in the territory’s history, has reignited a debate on ethics and sparked fresh calls for a ban.

The pod of white-sided dolphins were driven into shallow waters where they were killed with knives for their meat and blubber, as hundreds of locals looked on.

Photos showing the carcasses of the marine mammals lying on Skalabotnur beach in Eysturoy near waters which were turned red by blood have sparked outrage.

The annual hunt, known as the grind, is part of a four-century-old tradition, but this year’s resulted in the single biggest recording of killings in its history.

The slaughter of the dolphins is not commercial and is authorised, but environmental activists have long campaigned against it.

The 18 rocky islands located halfway between Scotland and Iceland in the North Atlantic are semi-independent and part of the Danish realm.

International marine campaign group Sea Shepherd claimed this year’s hunt broke several Faroese laws, saying many participants were unlicensed and had no specific training on how to quickly kill dolphins.

The group said having analysed videos, they believe many dolphins were still alive after being knifed and thrown onshore with the rest of their pod.

The Seattle-based body also claimed that some dolphins had been hacked by the propellers of boats, which would have resulted in slow, painful deaths.

The white-side dolphins and pilot whales are not endangered species.

Some Faroese who defend their right to carry on traditions expressed concern over the size of this year’s hunt, fearing it would draw unwanted attention to the islands.

Heri Petersen, the foreman of a group that drives pilot whales towards shore on the central Faroe island of Eysturoy, where the killings took place on Sunday, said he was not told about the dolphin drive and “strongly dissociated” himself from it.

Mr Petersen told the news outlet in.fo that there were too many dolphins and too few people on the beach to slaughter them.

He said: “I’m appalled at what happened.

“The dolphins lay on the beach writhing for far too long before they were killed.”

Islanders usually kill up to 1,000 sea mammals annually, according to data kept by the Faroe Islands. Last year, that included only 35 white-sided dolphins.

Olavur Sjurdarberg, chairman of the Faroese Pilot Whale Hunt Association, feared Sunday’s slaughter would revive the discussion about the sea mammal drives and put a negative spin on the ancient tradition.

Mr Sjurdarberg told local broadcaster KVF: “We need to keep in mind that we are not alone on earth. On the contrary, the world has become much smaller today, with everyone walking around with a camera in their pocket.

“This is a fabulous treat for those who want us [to look bad] when it comes to pilot whale catching.”

Faroese Fishery Minister Jacob Vestergaard defended last weekend’s grind, claiming everything was done by the book.

Updated: November 22, 2021, 8:39 AM