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Botched Whale Tagging Operation Leads to Unfortunate Kill in Hvalvik

Updated: Sep 4, 2023

In an unfortunate turn of events on August 19th at Hvalvik, an attempt by the Faroese Marine Research Institute to tag a pod of pilot whales for scientific purposes resulted in the death of eight animals.

Joanna Härmä, a Sea Shepherd volunteer, was among those present during the incident. The day began around 10:30 AM, when Härmä and her team, believing they might be attending a grindadrap, arrived at Hvalvik. They soon discovered a small pod of pilot whales that seemed relatively calm in the middle of the fjord. However, the calmness was believed to be a brief respite for the whales from an impending wind storm.

As the wind conditions rapidly deteriorated over the subsequent 45 minutes, the tagging team from the Faroese Marine Research Institute approached. Two boats emerged from the harbor, attempting to guide the pod towards the shore for the tagging procedure. The growing wind and waves made it nearly impossible for the team to control the pilot whales.

Pilot whales beached during tagging
The scientific team fails to tag the pilot whales in the growing swells. Photo by Joanna Härmä/Sea Shepherd.

Reflecting on the situation, Härmä remarked, "It should have been very clear from the outset that these were not the conditions for a successful tagging." She then compared the incident to a previous one, stating, "In Sandavagur exactly a month prior, we witnessed a tagging that went relatively smoothly. However, today's adverse conditions rendered the task almost impossible."

The situation became even more distressing when one of the whales ended up stranded on the beach. Despite the efforts of the tagging team and the assembled crowd's hopeful cheers, the whale's situation worsened.

In an attempt to end the animals' suffering humanely, two individuals were seen employing traditional Faroese hunting tools: a mønustingari, a lance to sever the spinal cord, and a long knife for cutting the neck.

The Grindaknívur whaling knife.
The Grindaknívur whaling knife. Photo by Sidney Haugen/Sea Shepherd.

However, even this attempt faced challenges due to the rough conditions. The distraught Sea Shepherd volunteer shared, "I saw the mønustingari plunged into the back of an animal... but as the animal’s neck was cut wide open, the tail end of the whale rose into the air more than once, suggesting that the spinal cord hadn’t been severed successfully. The botched attempt took far too long for so few animals."

Pilot whales continue to thrash
Pilot whales continue to thrash during the killing. Photo by Joanna Härmä/Sea Shepherd.

While the number of whales killed was significantly less than in some previous incidents, the aftermath of the tagging attempt left a profound mark on those present. Emphasizing the grave responsibilities carried by those leading such endeavors, Härmä pointed out, "In Hvalvik on 19th August, the lead marine researcher should have made a different and much earlier call. The wrong decision was made, leading to the horrific end to this small family of animals."

This unfortunate event underscores the need for thorough decision-making and stringent safety protocols during tagging operations.

Kid watching grindadráp.
Kid watching grindadráp. Photo by Sidney Haugen/Sea Shepherd.

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