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Times Have Changed: The Faroes' Responsibility as Part of the International Community

Updated: Jan 23

Presentation by Valentina Crast, Faroe Islands Campaign Lead at Sea Shepherd, for the November 30th European Parliament event, "Perspectives on the Grind"

"First, I'd like to take a moment to thank our hosts and coalition members, Francisco Guerreiro and Anja Hazenkamp. It’s through connections like ours that change is made - in this interconnected global society. And that’s precisely what today’s topic is – change.

Times have changed in the Faroe Islands over the last four decades since the first conventions to protect the oceans were signed by Denmark, with an explicit exclusion of the Faroe Islands. From being a secluded nation belonging to the Danish state, with all the problematic history that entails, to today – an independent, rich, mostly self-governing country thriving in a globalized society, boasting one of the strongest economies in Northern Europe. The Faroe Islands are completely capable and able to stand on their own. To even state these obvious facts feels a bit insulting to me, as a Dane with both respect and historical understanding of this nation. But it needs to be said. Because, although the times and living conditions no longer resemble life on the islands in the 1980s, and the Faroe Islands' connection to the international community is strong and profitable, the world around us still conveniently seems to classify the Faroe Islands as a nation in need and as a nation dealing with harsh living conditions when the topic of whaling arises.

Whaling in the Faroes has changed too. From a time when the community depended on grown men going out to sea in small wooden boats, risking their lives to provide for their families and ensure there was enough food for everyone, to today, where a call is made from an iPhone, the announcement of a kill is online, and men leave their comfortable homes in their modern cars, to drive down to their expensive speed boats, to do a quick trip out to sea, to drive back hundreds of dolphins with no troubles whatsoever. The activity itself no longer has any traditional elements to it. Engine-driven boats and jet skis are used to force pilot whales and dolphins into shallow waters to be killed, while the whalers at this point hardly break a sweat. The hunting of pilot whales has become so efficient and easy, in a time where it’s never been less necessary.

Today, a group of whalers can take out their boats and drive 1400 dolphins into a fjord and kill them all, as we saw in 2021 – images that truly told a story of a modern society’s disregard for our planet's wildlife. And I do realize that such a statement will infuriate a proud Faroese, as they would categorize themselves as respecting and living with nature far better than the rest of us, but actions speak so much louder than words. In the last ten years, more than 9500 pilot whales and dolphins have been driven and killed in Faroese fjords. And while it has been long established by local and international health authorities that the meat is so polluted, that it’s unfit for human consumption, this hasn't decreased the average number of dolphins killed. Wasted whale meat is at this point very well documented. Simple math each year reveals that far too much whale meat is distributed around than the entire population could consume.

Sea Shepherd has campaigned against whaling in the Faroes since the 80s. And much has changed in the last few years for us as well. We acknowledge that our aggressive exposure of Faroese whaling has been extremely successful in informing the international public about what goes on. There is no doubt in my mind that we sit here today because our persistent documentation of the grind reaches millions of people, such as yourselves. But we have been unsuccessful at ONE very important thing: creating local allies who have the potential and capabilities to end whaling in their own community. So I make a point of sharing with you, that for the last four years, we have focused a great deal of our time connecting with anyone in the community who is interested in leading the effort to protect the pilot whales and dolphins. Because even though we hold the opinion that whaling is a global matter and that it truly IS our business and YOUR business, we would like nothing more for it to become a local matter first and foremost.

Our work on the ground today is not only focused on retaining that important documentation of each whale slaughter, it’s also a deliberate and calculated effort to connect with local anti-whaling voices. And each year our circle of friends and allies grows. Ten years ago I wouldn’t have been able to encounter ONE local who we be seen with me in public. Today I’m proud to have Faroese friends and supporters, and my most important job is to create an environment where they could see themselves leading efforts to protect whales and dolphins in their community. And I don’t think we are far away from that being a reality. The documentation of the 1428 white-sided dolphins in 2021 was done entirely by a local Faroese friend who we connected with in 2020. We have come a long way, and still have a long way to go.

There is no way of ending whaling without the Faroese community choosing to end it. I don’t disagree with that. In my opinion, the EU has an important role to play in influencing that choice. Through international connections and trade, you can make Faroese whaling your business. There is no doubt that Faroese whaling causes public concern for animal welfare, and we see several examples in EU trade deals that address concerns like these. For example, in the case of seal products. In response to concerns of European consumers about the animal welfare aspects of the killing and skinning of seals, several Member States adopted legislation regulating trade in seal products by prohibiting the import and production of these products. Another example is products originating from cats and dogs. A complete ban was adopted to address the concerns of European citizens, who consider cats and dogs as pet animals and therefore do not want to buy products containing fur from them. The latest example is the new trade agreement between the EU and New Zealand. The agreement sets a precedent in trade policy, as it is the first time the EU has ratified a trade agreement that conditions market access to meet specific animal welfare standards.

These examples serve as inspiration for how we imagine that the EU can take part in the much-needed conversation about whaling in our European community, in these times when EVERYONE is concerned and occupied with protecting the natural world and saving wildlife. Of course, the Faroese don’t export dolphin meat. However, Faroese fishing boats are used in the grind, and Faroese fishermen don’t distinguish between killing a whale or catching a fish for export. We believe that a conversation about Faroese fish exports to the EU could be conditional so that there is no link between the fishing vessel used for catching fish and the killing of dolphins. And if it’s impossible to differentiate between the fishing boats, we propose that an animal welfare condition on the fish imports to the EU, be implemented to protect the whales and dolphins migrating through Faroese waters.

In all the ways that matter, the Faroe Islands are part of this international community. We trade with each other, we play sports, we study, we travel, we live with each other. It's a shame that when the conversation falls on whaling and the international community's interest in ending it, THEN the response is “We´re not part of the EU.” In many ways, the Faroe Islands benefit from a global society but reject the responsibilities that come along with those benefits.

Whaling does not belong in the world in 2024. An overwhelming part of the public wishes for the killing to stop and for the true protection of our oceans to begin. I’ll finish off by quoting a former president of the European Commission, who said it perfectly:

"The European Union, as a unique model of cooperation and integration, has the responsibility and capacity to play a crucial role in shaping a better, more stable, and sustainable world."

And in this conversation, we are asking you to play a key role in doing just that. Thank you."

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