||… that the most controversial Faroese tradition – from an outsider's point of
view – is probably the pilot whale killing, in Faroese “grindadráp”. Probably no
kind of animal slaughter
has been subject to the same level of public scrutiny or has evoked so many
emotions and anger as pilot whaling in the
||... that many myths, rumors and stereotypes about pilot whaling in the Faroe
Islands pend around the world. Pilot whaling is often seen described, especially
on the internet, as a "brutal mass slaughter", “blood thirsty sport “ or a
“massacre” performed as “a rite of passage
into adult life for participating young men" that takes place “annually”.
It's also often claimed that the Faroese kill the whales "just for fun" leaving
them to rot on the beach after the killing. These are highly exaggerated claims
- and often based on incorrect facts or misunderstandings. People who are
truly concerned, might be interested in facts, not fiction. To get the
facts right, please go to:
http://whaling.fo/ - or just read on.
||...that the truth is: “Grindadráp” is
not a hunt as such, but a “dráp” meaning a kill – i.e. the Faroese do
not regularly take to sea just to hunt for pilot whales, but only kill
those which are sighted swimming close to land. There is no required whale hunt for the young men on these islands.
No rites of passage are connected to the practice. The communal
processing is open to anyone on the island who wants to participate
regardless of age or gender.
||... that at irregular intervals throughout the year, although most often in the summer
months, schools of pilot whales sighted by chance around the islands are driven
into authorised whaling bays where they are made to beach and are killed with
knives in the shallows.
||... that behind the dramatic spectacle of the pilot whale killing is a killing method
that has developed over centuries under the close scrutiny of experts whose task
it is to oversee the simple technology yet considerable skill and organisation
required to kill a whole group of whales as quickly as possible. The killing
method is no more brutal than killing in most abattoirs in the world but the
fact that it takes place under open air where everybody can see it, and in water
where the blood of course colours the sea, makes it seem much more dramatic.
||... that the "grindadráp" is not done
simply for entertainment or tradition. The Faroe islanders have hunted
long-finned pilot whales for centuries as a way to provide food stocks
during the winter - and they still do. This practice provides much
needed winter food to a people who have a vested interest in maintaining
adequate whale populations.
||... that the whales are not left to rot
on the beach. Locals pride themselves on using 90%. Any leftovers which
can't be eaten, like the bones and intestines, are dumped in the sea
with strong currents.
||... that the whale meat is never
sold, but divided amongst the community.
Because you can’t grow vegetables on the islands the meat and blubber
has been very important for the survival of the inhabitants in the past.
It's still regarded to have vital importance. The meat and blubber is still shared and distributed among households
according to a thousand years old distribution rules which benefit the
ill, the elderly and the poor. Any surplus is donated to hospitals and
elderly care facilities. Thus, the pilot whale killing does not exist
for commercial reasons. On the contrary - the pilot whaling has
been an important part of social life for the Faroese because the joint meat sharing
is regarded a sign of great solidarity between the islanders helping
each other to survive in the harsh natural environment on these islands.
... that pilot whaling is such an integral part of Faroese culture that the Faroese look upon
pilot whale meat pretty much in the same way as most people in the world look
upon beef from cattle or pigs.
||... that the pilot whale is not an endangered species.
Since 1584 the pilot whaing has been monitored. Since then Faroe
Islanders have taken an average of 850 whales yearly out of a North
Atlantic population of 750,000 - some years more, some years less. The
pilot whaling has not at any time had
any significant impact on the stock as a whole since the whaling began.
Excavations show that pilot whales where part of the diet in the islands
1200 years ago already. In a 2008 IUCN Red List of Threatened Species
report, the organization changed its classification from "Low Risk/least
concern" to "insufficient data" in 2008, and listed anthropogenic sound,
such as sonar, as the greatest threat to the species. That same report
classified the Faroe island practice as "probably sustainable."
||... that lately fewer and fewer pilot whales have been killed
(only a couple of hundreds a year) mostly due to the fact that local
medical researchers discourage the Faroese to eat the whale meat, because the meat has
become too polluted by heavy metals, like methylmercury, and other toxins, like
pcbs and ddt, and thus become unfit for
humans to eat. This message was just as shocking to the Faroese as it would be
for most people in the world if researchers told them that they should
stop eating meat from cattle because it is unfit for human consumption.
Because of the warnings, human consumption of whale meat has decreased
considerably in the Faroes. In general people don't serve pilot whale to
children any more and especially young women prefer not to eat it
either. It is probably just a question of time before the pilot whaling
tradition will stop by itself.
||... that some Faroese, however, have
difficulties believing that the wale meat is seriously dangerous for
older people to eat. They are
reluctant to give up pilot whaling because they remember very well how
the Faroese have been plagued by severe economic crises so many times in
the past, where people would not have been able to
rescue themselves if they hadn't had the opportunity to go back to basics and use the natural resources
at hand - among others pilot whale meat, which has saved many lives in
the Faroes during times of economic crises. As late as in the beginning of the 1990'ies there was a severe
economic downfall where almost a fifth of the Faroese population had to
emigrate because they lost their jobs and homes, while part of the
remaining population would probably not have been able to survive and
stay on the islands if they did not have their bare hands to trust in
and could harvest natural resources like pilot whales.
Today a new crisis threatens. A few years ago there were ferry
connections to four countries. These connections are motorways to
the outside world. But the ferry company suffered economical problems
and had to close two of the ferry connections - to Scotland and Norway.
In a worst case scenario a severe crisis could totally isolate these
remote islands from the rest of the world - i.e. an oil crisis. This is
why the Faroese are still afraid to give up on the ancient skills to
live directly off what nature has to offer, because you never know when
the next crisis hits or the world outside could be on fire again leaving
the Faroe Islanders all to themselves. Therefore it is still a matter of
survival to them.
||... that most campaigns against pilot whaling have failed or just not
served their purpose. Probably because many of the campaigns have been
quite aggressive and hostile towards the Faroese people. These campaigns seem
therefore to work in reverse, making the Faroese
more convinced that – even if most of them, in many ways, live a modern
life today – they should hold on to their old traditions. The same old
traditional ways of utilizing nature that have helped them survive on
the islands for so long which also is why they have preserved their
traditions more so than most other western countries.
... that in the Faroese opinion the modern world has removed itself
further and further from it’s origin – nature itself and from nature
within us. They think that the old ways of living in and off nature in a sustainable
way, respecting and keeping nature's balance intact, are in imminent
danger of being exterminated because mass media and the entertainment
industry (among others) have "disney'fied" our relation to animals and
alienated humans from their true origin - nature itself - especially
people in urban areas who live relatively protected lives and never have
to deal with being directly or personally responsible for their own survival. Instead of living off what our close natural
environment provides (which sometimes means that killing wild animals is
necessary) people have become increasingly dependent on the modern
world's systems which basically are built on a heavily polluting
agriculture and a destructive mass industry
that exploits and pollutes nature, exhausts the soil and utilises
animals in a torture-like way. The Faroese argue that in the modern world it
has become "normal" to domesticate animals and breed them
under most unnatural circumstances with the sole
purpose to fulfill egotistic needs of humans in the most convenient
way (for humans) so we won't notice the unpleasant discomforting facts:
people are meat eaters – and thus in fact predators who need to have
animals killed to meet those needs. But having grown up with Disney's
way of portraying animals - not least Flipper in TV and Kelkoo (the
Orca) in the cinema - it is difficult to face this truth about ourselves
and much easier to displace the facts and just let somebody else do "the
dirty work" somewhere where we don't have to watch it happen. You could say: in
that sense no meat eater is better than any Faroe Islander - they're
just being hipocrits.
... that the
Faroese think, that everyone who eats meat should realise that it is a fact we can't run away from:
humans are predators (as long as they eat meat) and to get meat on
the table there must be shed blood, one way or the other. But it seems
that people will rather displace this fact and get upset with some of the few people
left on earth who still kill wild animals in their vicinity for food,
because they take personal responsibility for their own survival rather
then being too dependent on industrially produced food that mostly has
to be imported a long way. To the Faroese the pilot whaling is just
their traditional way of providing food to themselves and they don't
understand why people get so agitated by that. The ask the question: Is
the industrial way of providing food really more humane?
||... that one can always argue whether some sea mammals are more
intelligent than some mammals on land or not. But the Faroese ask:
Who's to determine how
intelligent an animal has to be to earn the right not to be eaten by
humans? There is not scientific evidence enough to indicate that
whales – e.g. pilot whales – are much more intelligent than some of the
most common domestic animals on land people kill for food. Pigs are in fact some of
the most intelligent mammals – more so than dogs, for instance, that
some claim are at the same intelligence level as pilot whales.
... that the Faroese emphasize that they are very concious of keeping
nature's balance intact while utilizing what nature offers and still
being human and sensitive enough, not to make the whales suffer
unnecessarily. The Faroese take in fact pride in striving to make the
killings as swift as possible not to distress the animals more than
necessary. They respect the animals in their own way - and consider the pilot whales to be a
precious gift from God, they are very grateful for.
... that in the opinion of the Faroese the schizophrenic, industrial,
modern way of living is hypocritical, much greedier and much more cruel
and more dangerous than the Faroese traditional life style will ever be.
They say that, in fact, the modern life style of people throughout the
world today has proven to be the real threat to the world
and it's inhabitants – humans as well as animals. The Faroese are not to
be blamed for the pollution of the seas and the contaminated whale meat.
The Faroese think that people should rather concentrate on protesting
and campaigning against the ignorance the modern way of living causes instead of suppressing the last remains of a
tradition that represents a well tested, sustainable and basically much
more balanced and in the end more life-sustaining lifestyle - if it
hadn't been for the pollution. This is how the Faroese look at it. That
is why they for so long have been
prepared to fight for what they regard as their natural rights: to
harvest, in a sustainabe way, what is available at this high latitude, where you can't grow
vegetables just as they've done for more than a thousand years – also
even if it means that the campaigners have succeeded in making them a
scapegoat in the world media.
||... that the Faroese say that they have
lived through many trade embargos and boycotts before and seem not
afraid of doing that again, because they know that "if everything else
fails, we could always kill a few whales to fill our
empty stomachs! Heavy metal or not."
||... that the Faroese do not regard
themselves as an endangering factor to the whale population because the stock
had not diminished until later years even if
the Faroese have been killing around 850 pilot whales on average almost every
year, at least fromthe year 1584 when they started to monitor it. This
an average amount they have never increased – unless they were
absolutely forced to because of famine. Even if the population on the
islands has tripled the last 100 years the number of whales killed did
not increase which proves that the Faroese have taken care of the stock
also long before the mercury pollution was known. The tragic irony of it all, some would say, is that if the campaigners
succeed in getting large crowds of people or even countries to boycott Faroese
products or to refrain from travelling to the islands this will isolate
the Faroese people even more, making them less susceptible to other ways of
thinking that could change their minds, and it might very likely cause
an economic crisis in the Faroes which, consequently, will force the
Faroese to live off what is at hand in their own environment – e.g.
killing pilot whales!
||... that more information and facts
about pilot whaling can be found here: