The Faroese Grindadrap, also known as the ‘Grind,’ has hit the headlines again recently, although thankfully not due to another hunt (not yet anyway!). With a number of new documentaries being released presenting mixed messages about the hunt, we wanted to share a few facts to help audiences differentiate truth from fiction.
‘The Grind is an annual hunt.’ This is a statement that is commonly misrepresented in the press. Hunts occur whenever a pod of whales or dolphins is spotted in close proximity to the islands. This tends to happen during summer months when these animals migrate to the North Atlantic sea. However, the Grindadrap has no season and so hunts can happen at any time of the year at any one of the 26 designated killing bays around the Islands. Last year alone, thirteen hunts took place between April and September killing 1,428 Atlantic White-Sided dolphins and 667 long-finned pilot whales. Given that almost half of residents (47%) have admitted to never consuming whale, it can only be assumed that the majority of this meat has been thrown away.
‘The Grind is well governed and controlled’. Unlike other whale hunting nations, the Faroe Islands does not have an annual quota for the number of cetaceans killed. In addition, the hunters have no way of anticipating or knowing how many dolphins or whales are in the pod/pods that they identify and decide to hunt, preventing any ability to assess the numbers that are likely to be killed before the hunt takes place. The grind foremen of each district almost always authorise a hunt when a pod is spotted near the coastline - unless the weather or sea conditions are too hazardous for their powerboats and jet skis. This means that there is no limit on the number of cetaceans that are killed. This irresponsible way of hunting led to 1,428 dolphins being killed in one hunt on the 12th September 2021. Not only was the initial calculation of the pod size wrong, which led to a lack of people waiting on the shore to kill the animals - prolonging the animals' suffering - but the majority of killing was carried out by knife wielding, inexperienced, younger Faroese men who hacked the animals to death in clear violation of basic animal welfare standards.
‘The Grind is the same as a slaughterhouse’. A common argument used by the Faroese to defend the Grindadrap is that killing animals for meat in any form is cruel and that other nations are willing to eat meat that has been killed ‘out of sight’ in a slaughterhouse. This is misleading as European legislation requires that all animals killed for human consumption must be stunned (i.e., unconscious) before they are slaughtered to avoid suffering. During a Grind, pilot whales and dolphins are placed under immense stress as they are chased for several hours into a bay. They are then dragged to shore with ropes and blunted hooks (lances) are inserted in the animals' blowholes. The spinal lance, even if used correctly, only paralyses the animal which then, unable to struggle, bleeds slowly to death. The killing is supposed to be painless and quick, but Sea Shepherd has recorded instances where the killing of individual whales or dolphins has regularly taken over 2 minutes, and in the worst cases up to 8 minutes. On average, the killing at grinds takes around 13 minutes and causes the animal considerable distress as it witnesses its entire pod slaughtered around it.
The Grind is ‘sustainable’. The Faroe Island’s is currently trying to position itself as a sustainable tourist destination that preserves nature and culture. However, there is no evidence to suggest that the Grindadrap is sustainable. The number of long-finned pilot whales in the ocean is poorly studied and numbers remain undetermined, making any unnecessary killing unsustainable by definition. For this reason, the Agreement on the Conservation of Small Cetaceans of the Baltic, North East Atlantic, Irish and North Seas (ASCOBANS) and the Conservation of Migratory Species convention (CMS) do not classify the grind as ‘sustainable.’ Faroese government officials have admitted that there has never even been a sustainability study for white sided dolphins in Faroese waters. This is especially troubling given the number of animals killed annually. The September 12th hunt of 1,428 was double the number of dolphins killed in Taiji, Japan (home of the ‘Cove’) over its six-month season.
Whale and dolphin meat is a ‘sustainable source of animal protein’. Dolphin and whale meat is neither sustainable nor healthy. In an upcoming international conference taking place in Tórshavn (Faroe Islands), in October 2022, international chefs, hunters and policymakers are planning to come together to promote marine mammals as an ‘innovative’ and ‘modern’ example of sustainable gastronomy. Stating that a food is ‘sustainable’ requires robust data on the amount of food that is available today, and insight into how it can be sustained in the future. There is no such data for pilot whales or White-sided dolphins – the Faroese government officials have admitted that there has never even been a sustainability study for white sided dolphins in Faroese waters. In addition, dolphin and whale meat has been scientifically proven to be highly contaminated by mercury, Polychlorinated Biphenyls (PCBs) and persistent organic pollutants (POPs). A major peer reviewed study showed that whale and dolphin meat consumption has been linked to impaired cognition and has increased the risk of Parkinson's amongst Faroese residents. In 2011, the Faroese Food and Veterinary Authority released a recommendation advising adults not to eat pilot whale more than once a month, and women and girls planning on having children to abstain entirely. Does this sound like a sustainable source of animal protein?
‘The Grind is not commercial’ According to the Faroese government, any meat caught during the hunt is not commercially sold but shared within the community. This is not accurate. Dolphin and whale meat is widely sold in restaurants and supermarkets across the island. Sadly, much of the meat that is sold or shared is discarded due to dying demand for this product and growing awareness of its significant health risks and the advice of Faroese public health authorities that consumption of pilot whale and dolphin meat should be avoided or significantly limited.
‘The Grindadrap is a long-held tradition that must be preserved’ While it is true that the Grindadrap is a long-held tradition in the Faroe Islands, it has fundamentally evolved from its 15th-century roots. Originally, wooden rowing boats and rocks were used to drive the whales to shore, where they were killed in the shallows with spears. That was when whale meat was an essential source of food. However, with the Faroese fisherman now using jet skis and motorboats, the fairness of the hunt is no longer defensible. When it comes to weighing animal protection over cultural heritage and tradition, there is a growing precedent of favouring the ethical treatment and conservation of animals. This is evident with the UK's Hunting Act of 2004, which saw the banning of fox hunting. Similarly, in 2019 the European Court of Justice ruled in favour of the Flemish (Belgium) regional government's provision requiring animals to be stunned before being slaughtered, essentially banning the Islamic and Jewish practices of animal slaughter. There is a need to recognise that some traditions belong in the past especially in communities like the Faroe Islands that don't depend on it for their livelihood or survival.
'Whale meat is an essential source of food in the Faroe Islands’ The Faroese argument around sustenance and lack of access to food is not evidence-based. The country possesses a lucrative fishing and tourism industry and a GDP per capita of $64,225, similar to other Scandinavian countries. Like other island states, it has access to a global supply chain of food and the financial resources to import products from other countries. Moreover, the recent Free Trade Agreement with the UK significantly enriched the country. The UK is the Faroe Islands’ most valuable export market, with the UK importing £901 million worth of goods and services and exporting only £21 million to the Faroe Islands. UK consumers are therefore, unknowingly, supporting the Grind by purchasing fish products from the Faroe Islands.
‘The hunt only involves wild animals who have lived long and free lives’ The Grindadrap is not a selective hunt. Entire pods are slaughtered at one time, including pregnant mothers, babies and suckling calves. This is directly against the International Convention for the Regulation of Whaling, which the Faroe Islands is a signature of via Denmark.
‘The Faroese are supportive of the grind’ Given that the Grind is repeatedly justified on the basis of culture and tradition, another accompanying argument and assumption is that all Faroese citizens are supportive of the killing of whale and dolphins. However, a poll conducted following the September 12th grind found that over 50% of respondents were in favour of halting the hunting of dolphins. Likewise, a 2014 study on whale consumption in the Faroe Islands found that 47% of participants rarely or never ate pilot whale. This ‘distaste for whale’ has resulted in much of the whale meat produced being thrown away.
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