It was with deep anguish that I received confirmation early Friday afternoon from Faroese police authorities that over 100 pilot whales have been brutally slaughtered in the town of Vestmanna in the Faroe Islands.
These numbers have undoubtedly since risen as locals continued throughout the day to carve up these sentient and intelligent beings who violently lost their lives to bloodlust and greed in a cowardice act of cultural tradition referred to by locals as “grindadrap”.
In Faroese, “grind” literally translates to pilot whale, while “drap” translates to “murder” thus representing the largest extermination of marine mammals in all of Europe — literally whale murder. Well, at least we can call a spade a spade here.
Upon recently returning from the Faroe Islands as part of The Sea Shepherd Conservation Society’s pilot whale defense campaign, I am deeply saddened by this gruesome turn of events as our presence there over the course of the last 2 months directly and successfully deterred these annual atrocities from taking place.
Our ground crew spent over 6 weeks patrolling the hunting bays on a daily basis and engaging with locals in order to gain a firsthand perspective surrounding the grind while working in close collaboration with Sea Shepherd vessels and crews of the Steve Irwin and Brigitte Bardot.
Our main objective was to keep pilot whales as far away from the Faroes Islands as possible so that they may continue to roam free as they have for over 30 million years.
Every year during the summer months the Faroese massacre entire pods, or families, of pilot whales as they migrate through adjacent waters.
Once a pod is spotted at sea, the local police are notified and give the official clearance to commence a grind which is carried out by local men who are designated to partake in the community ritual.
At this point, the whales are forcefully driven into one of 23 hunting bays or fjords by small fishing boats where locals rush the shallow waters to annihilate the corralled whales by slashing through their thick neck tissue in order to sever the spinal chord — an endeavor that Faroese claim takes only a matter of minutes although eye witness reports indicate that it often takes much longer before the suffering mammals are put out of audible misery.
One can’t help wonder which is worse — enduring the agonizing pain itself or the trauma of hearing the cries of family members as they are brutally butchered before one another’s eyes.
Ah yes, something is indeed quite rotten in Denmark’s little protectorate — an archipelago of 18 islands located in the North Atlantic, northwest of Scotland and halfway between Norway and Iceland.
Whaling in the Faroe Islands has been practiced since the time of the first Norse settlements some 1100 years ago on the islands and locals fiercely defend the brutality, citing that written records of drive hunts in the Faroe Islands date back to 1854.
Of course, those of us who are of the scientific, not to mention intuitive, understanding that cetaceans are a socially complex, self-aware and highly sophisticated sentient species, consider the annual bloodbath nothing short of genocide.
To simply dismiss these scientifically proven facts seems both obtuse and short sided, however detachment from reality, denial, blind patriotism and other such psychological defense mechanisms apparently provide comfortable states of existence for some.
In the Faroes, it appears that certain types of socially transmitted behavior allow for the justification and even a certain level of respect for the pilot whale hunt.