Whaling in the Faroe Islands

For industrial whaling in the Faroes, see: History of whaling

The beaching and slaughtering long-finned pilot whales, a type of dolphin drive hunting, has been practiced in the Faroe Islands in the North Atlantic since about the time of the first Norsemen settled there. The hunters first surround the pilot whales with a wide semicircle of boats. Then the boats drive the pilot whales into a bay or to the bottom of a fjord. Not all bays are certified, and the slaughter will only take place on a certified beach. Many Faroese consider the whale meat an important part of their food culture and history. Animal rights groups criticize the slaughter as being cruel and unnecessary.[1][2][3]

The whaling is considered an example of aboriginal whaling. Whaling was mentioned in the Sheep Letter, a Faroese law from 1298, a supplement to the Norwegian Gulating law.[4]

Currently whaling is regulated by the Faroese authorities.[5] Around 800 long-finned pilot whales[6] and some Atlantic white-sided dolphins[7] are slaughtered annually, mainly during the summer. The hunts, called grindadráp in Faroese, are non-commercial and are organized on a community level. The police and Grindaformenn are allowed to remove people from the grind area.[5]

Responding to criticism, the Faroese authorities have made changes to whaling practices. Now, those who participate in the killing must have a special training certificate on slaughtering a pilot whale with the spinal-cord lance.[8] The Grind law was updated in 2015, where one of the regulations demanded that the whalers followed a course on how to slaughter a pilot whale with the spinal-cord lance.[9]

In November 2008, Høgni Debes Joensen, chief medical officer of the Faroe Islands and Pál Weihe, scientist, recommended in a letter to the Faroese government that pilot whales should no longer be considered fit for human consumption because of the high level of mercury, PCB and DDT derivatives.[10][11] However, the Faroese government did not forbid whaling. On 1 July 2011 the Faroese Food and Veterinary Authority announced their recommendation regarding the safety of eating meat and blubber from the pilot whale, which was not as strict as the one of the chief medical officer. The new recommendation says only one dinner with whale meat and blubber per month, with a special recommendation for younger women, girls, pregnant women and breastfeeding women.[12] From 2002 to 2009 the PCB concentration in whale meat has fallen by 75%, DDT values in the same time period have fallen by 70% and mercury levels have also fallen.[13]


Archaeological evidence from the early Norse settlement of the Faroe Islands c. 1200 years ago, in the form of pilot whale bones found in household remains in Gøta on Eysturoy, indicates that the pilot whale has long had a central place in the everyday life of Faroe Islanders. Records of drive hunts in the Faroe Islands date back to 1584.[14] The meat and blubber of the pilot whale have been an important part of the islanders' staple diet. The islanders have particularly valued blubber: both as food and for processing into oil, which they used for lighting fuel and other purposes like medicine. The blubber of the bottlenose whale is not fit for food, as it gives diarrhea.[15] In older days, it was used for medicinal purposes. People also used parts of the skin of pilot whales for ropes and lines, while utilising the stomachs as fishing floats.

Laws have regulated rights in the Faroes since medieval times. References appear in early Norwegian legal documents, while the oldest existing legal document with specific reference to the Faroes, the Sheep Letter from 1298, includes rules for rights to, and shares of, both stranded whales as well as whales driven ashore.[16]

Elements of the hunt

There are no fixed hunting seasons. As soon as a pod close enough to land is spotted, the locals set out to begin the hunt, after approval from the sysselman. The animals are driven into a bay which is approved for whaling by the Faroese government, and then they try to make the whales to beach themselves. The only way out is being blocked off by some of the boats, which stay there until men who have been waiting on shore have slaughtered all the whales.[17]

The sighting

The pilot whale hunt has a well-developed system of communication. Reverend Lucas Debes made reference to the system, which means that it had already developed by the seventeenth century, but the statistics go back to 1584.[18] Historically the system took place in this way: when a school of pilot whales had been sighted near land, messengers were sent to spread the news among the inhabitants of the island involved (the Faroes have 17 inhabited islands). At the same time, a bonfire was lit at a specific location, to inform those on the neighbouring island, where the same pattern then was followed.

It is believed that the system is one of the oldest elements concerning the pilot whale hunt. This is because a rather large number of boats and people are necessary to drive and kill a school of pilot whales, depending on the number of whales. Today the news of a sighting is relayed by phone and other modern methods of communication.


The location must be well-suited to the purpose of beaching whales. It is against the law to kill pilot whales at locations with inappropriate conditions. The seabed must gradually slope from the shore out to deep water. Given such conditions, the chances are good that the whales can be driven fully ashore or close enough to the shore that they can be killed from land. When a school of pilot whales is sighted, boats gather behind them and slowly drive them towards the chosen authorized location, usually a bay or the end of a fjord. There are 23 towns, villages or bays (Viðvík is not populated) that have the right conditions, and therefore legal authorization, for beaching whales. These are in alphabetical order: Bøur, Fámjin, Fuglafjørður, Húsavík, Hvalba (and Nes-Hvalba), Hvalvík, Hvannasund, Klaksvík, Leynar, Miðvágur, Norðragøta, Norðskáli, Sandur, Syðrugøta, Tjørnuvík, Tórshavn (in Sandagerð), Tvøroyri, Vágur, Vestmanna, Viðvík (near Hvannasund, but on the east coast of Viðoy) and Øravík.[19]

These towns and villages have featured most heavily in the statistics for whaling in the Faroes from 1584 to 2000:

From 1584 until 1641 the statistics are not complete, and in the Gabel's periods from 1642–1708 only a few statistics are available, but from 1709 until today the statics seem to be concise and reliable. Statistics before 1584 were the responsibility of the Catholic church and are not available in the Faroes today. But statistics back to as far as 1584 are available.[20]

  1. Miðvágur (Vágar) with 269 grinds (pods of pilot whales) (14,9%) and 46,737 whales (18,5%), in the periods 1749–1775 and 1783–1791 no whales were slaughtered there
  2. Klaksvík (Borðoy) with 233 grinds (12,9%) and 37,964 whales (15,1%), in the periods 1753–1770 and 1771–1793 no whales were slaughtered there
  3. Hvalvík (Streymoy) 193 grinds (10,7%) and 31,562 whales (12,5%), in the periods 1755–1780 and 1782–1796 no whales were slaughtered there
  4. Vágur (Suðuroy) with 155 grinds (8,6%) and 21,144 whales (8,4%), in the periods 1742–1795 and 1926–1935 no whales were slaughtered there
  5. Vestmanna (Streymoy) with 141 grinds (7,8%) and 19,695 whales (7,8%), in the periods 1732–1801 and 1820–1830 no whales were slaughtered there
  6. Hvalba (Suðuroy) with 136 grinds (7,5%) and 17,664 whales (7,0%), in the periods 1748–1792 and 1921–1931 no whales were slaughtered there
  7. Tórshavn (Streymoy) with 107 grinds (5,9%) and 13,678 whales (5,4%) in the periods 1728–1821 and 1897–1929 no whales were slaughtered there
  8. Hvannasund (Viðoy) with 83 grinds (4,6%) and 8,441 whales (3,3%) in the periods 1742–1802 and 1859–1878 no whales were slaughtered there
  9. Trongisvágur (Suðuroy) with 54 grinds (3,0%) and 6,511 whales (2,6%) in the periods 1733–1803 and 1875–1898 no whales were slaughtered there
  10. Funningsfjørður (Eysturoy) with 48 grinds (2,7%) and 4,883 whales (1,9%) in the periods 1735–1802 and 1899–1925 no whales were slaughtered there[21]


At the beginning of the twentieth century, proposals to begin regulation of the whale hunt began to reach the Faroese legislature. On 4 June 1907, the Danish Governor (in Faroese: amtmaður), as well as the sysselmann (sheriff), sent the first draft for whaling regulations to the Office of the Exchequer in Copenhagen. In the following years, a number of drafts were debated, and finally in 1932 the first Faroese whaling regulations were introduced. As a part of the home rule act of 1948, fishing and hunting (such as whaling) laws and regulations are now governed by the Faroese Parliament.[22][23] Since then, every detail of the pilot whale hunt has been carefully defined in the regulations.[24] This means that the institution of the pilot whale hunt, which had previously largely been based on tradition, became an integrated part of society's legal structure. In the regulations, one has institutionalized old customs and added new ordinances when old customs have proved insufficient or inappropriate.[25]


Since 1832, the Faroe Islands have been divided into several whaling districts, although there is reason to believe that these districts already existed in some form prior to this date. These whaling districts are the basis for the distribution of the meat and blubber of the pilot whales caught. The catch is distributed in such a way that all the residents of the whaling district are given the same amount of the catch, regardless of whether they took part in the hunt or not.


Before the enactment of home-rule in 1948, the Danish governor had the highest responsibility of supervising a pilot whale hunt. Today, supervision is the responsibility of the Faroese government.[22][23] The government is charged with ensuring that the pilot whaling regulations are respected and otherwise answer for preparations. In practice, this means that it is the local legislative representative who holds the highest command in a pilot whale hunt. It is his responsibility to both supervise the hunt and to distribute the catch.

The hunt

Whale hunting equipment is legally restricted to hooks (blásturkrókur), ropes, mønustingari (a specially-designed Faroese knife to cut the whale's spine, so it dies within seconds) and assessing-poles for measurement. When the men hear the news about the grindaboð (that a whale pod has been discovered near land), fishermen already at sea in their boats sail towards the whales and wait for other boats to arrive. In older times the boats which were used to the whale hunt were the traditional wooden rowing boats. In modern times they use boats with engines; these boats can be wooden boats or other types of boats like fibreglass boats. In the village of Vágur however they have preserved ten old whaling boats, which are wooden rowing boats, the oldest one dates back to 1873.[26] These boats are still in use but mostly for pleasure trips.[27][28] Most of the boats used in whale hunts are small modern fishing boats. In Vágur equipment like ropes and hooks (for the whale's blowhole) are kept in boat houses and only taken out from their place when there is grindaboð in the island of Suðuroy.

Whale drives take place only when a school of whales is sighted close to land, and when sea and weather conditions make this possible. The whaling regulations specify how the school of whales is to be driven ashore. The drive itself works by surrounding the pilot whales with a wide semicircle of boats. On the whaling-foreman's signal, stones attached to lines are thrown into the water behind the pilot whales, thus the boats drive the whales towards an authorised beach or fjord, where the whales then beach themselves. It is not permitted to take whales on the ocean-side of the rope. A pilot whale drive is always under supervision of local authorities.

The pilot whales that are not beached were earlier often stabbed in the blubber with a sharp hook, called a sóknarongul, (a kind of gaff) and then pulled ashore. But, after allegations of animal cruelty, the Faroese whalers started using blunt gaffs (in Faroese: blásturongul) in order to hold the beached whale steady and further more to pull the whales ashore by their blowholes after being killed. As of 2012, the ordinary gaff is used only to pull killed whales ashore, later it is not used at all. The blunt gaff became generally accepted since its invention in 1993, and it is not only more effective, but it is also thought to be more humane by comparison to the other gaff.[29]

Furthermore, in 1985, the Faroe Islands outlawed the use of spears and harpoons (Faroese: hvalvákn and skutil) in the hunt, as these weapons were considered to be unnecessarily cruel to the whales.[30]

Once ashore, the pilot whale is killed by cutting the dorsal area through to the spinal cord with a special whaling knife, a mønustingari (spinal cord cutter), and after cutting it, the whaler must make sure that the whale is dead, he can do this by touching the whale's eye; before he cuts the neck open, so that as much blood as possible can run from the whale in order to get the best quality of meat. The neck is cut with a grindaknívur, but only after it has been killed.[31] The mønustingari is a new invention which has been legal to use to kill pilot whales with since 2011,[32] and since 1 May 2015 it is the only weapon allowed to slaughter a whale. The length of time it takes for a whale to die varies from a few seconds to a few minutes. Other observers complained that it took up to fifteen minutes for certain whales to die, they noted several cuts were sometimes made before a successful death and that some whales were not even killed properly until a vet finishes the job.[33][34] With the new law which prohibits the whale hunters to stab the whales from the boats, this should not take place any more. According to the new Whaling Law (Grindalógin), it is only allowed to kill the whales from the shore, that means it is not the men who hunt the pilot whales with their boats who are slaughtering the whales, but men who are waiting on the beach with blowhole hooks with rope and spinal cord knives.

Other species of cetacean that may be taken

According to Faroese legislation, it is also permitted to hunt certain species of small cetaceans other than pilot whales.[35] These include: bottlenose dolphin (Tursiops truncatus), white-beaked dolphin (Lagenorhynchus albirostris), Atlantic white-sided dolphin (Lagenorhynchus acutus), and harbour porpoise (Phocaena phocaena).

The hunting of these dolphin species, with the exception of harbour porpoises, is carried out in the same way as the pilot whale hunt.

Harbour porpoises are killed with shotguns, and numbers taken must be reported to the relevant district sheriff. According to statistics, the number of harbour porpoises shot is very low — from 0 to 10 animals each year.

Commercial whaling for larger whale species (fin and minke whales) in the Faroes Islands has not been carried out since 1984. The last whaling station was at Við Áir near Hvalvík, which closed down in 1984. The Faroese government (Mentamálaráðið), Sunda Municipality and Søvn Landsins are restoring it to make it into a maritime museum.[36]

Other species are also killed on rare occasion such as the northern bottlenose whale and Atlantic white-sided dolphin. The northern bottlenose whale is mainly killed when it accidentally swims too close to the beach and cannot return to the water. When the locals find them stranded or nearly stranded on the beach, they kill them and share the meat to all the villagers.[37]

The stranding of the northern bottlenose whale mainly happens in two villages in the northern part of Suðuroy: Hvalba and Sandvík. It is believed that it happens because of a navigation problem of the whale, because there are isthmuses on these places, where the distance between the east and west coasts are short, around one kilometer or so. And for some reason it seems like the bottlenose whale want to take a short cut through what it thinks is a sound, and too late it discovers, that is on shallow ground and is unable to turn around again. It happened on 30 August 2012, when two northern bottlenose whales swam ashore to the gorge Sigmundsgjógv in Sandvík. Two men who were working on the harbour noticed these whales, and some time later they had either died by themselves or were killed by the locals and then cut up for food for the people of Sandvík and Hvalba (Hvalba municipality).[37]

Fatal accident in Sandvík in 1915

On Saturday 13 February 1915 there was a whale hunt in Sandvík, which is the northernmost village of Suðuroy. During the drive into the bay of Sandvík an accident occurred, two boats capsized because of rough sea with 15 men on board. 14 of these young men lost their lives in the accident, only one was rescued. The men came from the villages Sandvík and Hvalba. The accident was one of the worst in the maritime history of the Faroe Islands; it has been referred to a Skaðagrindin í Sandvík in Faroese (The Fatal Grind of Sandvík). The only man who survived the accident, Petur í Køkini, wrote a letter on the following day in which he described the accident and his loss of his son and his brother. The letter was written in Danish because the Faroese people were not allowed to be educated in their mother tongue, Faroese, at that time. The letter starts with these sentences:

"It is with great sorrow, that I must write you these lines. Yesterday we have lost our beloved son (Niels Peter Joensen) during a whaling in Sandvík. The sea was so rough that two boats capsized, 9 men on board one and 6 in the other. I was myself on board one of these boats and was the only one who got rescued. Several times I got loose of the boat and was deep down in the sea, but I kept grabbing the boat again. After a long time a boat came to rescue me. You must not think, that I was just glad to be rescued. It was just because of Mariane (his wife) and the daughters. My brother Hans also died. All together 14 young men and boys like Peter. It is an unbelievable grief, both out where he used to work, and not at least here at home."[38]


During the cut of a pilot whale's spine, its main arteries also get cut. Because of this, the surrounding sea tends to turn a bloody red. This vivid imagery is often used by anti-whaling groups in their campaigns against the hunt. These images of a blood-red sea can have a shocking effect on bystanders.

Since harpoons, spears, and firearms are prohibited, the whalers must be on the shoreline of the water and kill each individual whale.

Ólavur Sjúrðaberg, the chairman of the Faroese Pilot Whalers’ Association, describes the pilot whale hunt in such a way: "I'm sure that no one who kills his own animals for food is unmoved by what he does. You want it done as quickly and with as little suffering as possible for the animal."[39]

The pilot whale as a source of food

The largest part of traditional Faroese food consists of meat. Because of the rugged, rocky Faroese terrain, grain and vegetables do not grow very well, as only about 2% of the 1,393 km2 is arable land and none is set aside for permanent crops.[40] During the winter months, the Faroe Islanders' only option was to eat mostly salted or dried food (this includes sheep meat, pilot whale meat, seabirds, and fish). This means that over the centuries, the pilot whale has been an important source of nutrition for the isolated population on the North Atlantic archipelago.

The pilot whale meat and blubber are stored, prepared, and eaten in Faroese households. This also means that whale meat is not available at supermarkets. Although the Faroe Islands' main export is fish, this does not include pilot whale meat or blubber. An annual catch of 956 pilot whales[41] (1990–1999) is roughly equivalent to 500 tonnes of meat and blubber, some 30% of all meat produced locally in the Faroe Islands.

Whale meat and blubber as source of carnitine, vitamins and minerals

In 1995 the first Faroese patient with systemic primary carnitine deficiency (SPCD) was diagnosed.[42] Later other patients were found, but nothing was done to find out if the illness was common or if something should be done about it. Not until 2008 when a young woman died just a few days after being diagnosed with SPCD (in the Faroes, the illness is named CTD), actions were finally taken by the Faroese health authorities. The young woman had not been treated, and this caused a big discussion about how to prevent this from happening again. Shortly after, all Faroese people in the Faroes were invited to take a blood sample for a small cost and get it screened for SPCD. Several persons with the illness were found and got treatment immediately. It is now known that several Faroese people have died a sudden death at a young age because of this illness. Around one third of the Faroese population has been screened for SPCD (with a blood sample), and scientists think that at least one of every 1000 inhabitants of the Faroes have the illness. There have also been found elderly people who have survived the illness without treatment. The treatment is to give the patients carnitine supplement. The German physician and scientist Ulrike Steurwald, who has done research in the Faroe Islands for several years, has argued that the Faroese diet of red meat, like sheep meat and whale meat which contain high amounts of carnitine, may have protected many Faroese people from a sudden death at a young age from SPCD.[43][44] The whale meat contains nutritions like carnitine, taurine and selenium. The concentration of selenium in raw fresh cod fillet and raw fresh pilot whale meat is 28 µg/100g and 185 µg/100g.[45] The whale's blubber is rich in vitamin D, which around half of the elderly population and many amongst the younger generations in the Faroe Islands are lacking. Reasons for this can be changes from traditional food to pizza, chicken, etc.[46] The fat of sea mammals provide excellent sources of vitamins A, D and E.[47]

Food preparation

Whale meat and blubber are Faroese delicacies. Well into the 20th century, meat and blubber from the pilot whale was used to feed people for long periods of time. Everybody got a share, as is the custom to this day.[48] The meat and blubber can be stored and prepared in a variety of ways, in Faroese it is called Tvøst og spik. When fresh, the meat is boiled or served as steaks. A pilot whale steak is called in Faroese: grindabúffur. Whale meat with blubber and potatoes in their skins are put into a saucepan with salt and then boiled for an hour or so. Slivers of the blubber are also a popular accompaniment to dried fish.

The traditional preservation is by salting or outdoor wind-drying.[49] The wind-drying takes around eight weeks. The salting is usually done by putting the meat and the blubber in salt, a little bit of water can be added, it should be so salty, that a potato can float in it. The meat and blubber can be eaten when needed, it can last for a very long time when lying in salt. It can not be eaten directly as it would be too salty, it must be "watered out" for one to 1 12 day, it depends how salty people like it. After that the meat must be boiled, the blubber can be boiled or eaten as it is. Today many people also freeze the meat and the blubber, but the traditional way of storage is still practiced, particularly in the villages, and the food lasts longer that way. The Faroese people are aware of the fact that the pilot whales, just like many other ocean mammals, are contaminated and that they should not eat the meat and blubber so often. In some areas there are no whalings for years, and then the people there do not have any whale food unless they get some from relatives or friends from other areas who have enough and wish to share.

Some times the pilot whale meat and other Faroese food specialties are offered at different public cultural events,[50] but it is also popular at private parties, the Faroese people like to have "kalt borð" (it means "cold table") at family parties and other events,[51] and this table with a variety of cold dishes and cakes often include dried pilot whale meat and salted blubber.

Pollution of the oceans

Study in the Faroes of mercury pollution

In 1986-87 more than 1000 Faroese children were enrolled in a long-term study of fish consumption and children's development in the Faroe Islands. The study was led by Philippe Grandjean from the University of Southern Denmark. The researchers took hair samples from the mothers of unborn children and a sample of umbilical cord blood in order to measure prenatal exposure to mercury. At the age of seven, the children participated in some tests which showed that the higher the level of mercury was, the worse the performance. The mercury found in the tested Faroese women and children comes mainly from the consumption of pilot whale.[52]

Contaminants found in marine mammals and birds

Regular studies are being made of contaminants of the marine mammals and birds who live in and around the Arctic sea around Greenland and the Faroe Islands as a part of the Arctic Monitoring and Assessment Programme (AMAP). The scientist have found high amounts of a variety of contaminants. DEHP (Phthalate) was found in high concentration between 75-161 ng/g wet-weight in all samples.[53]

A June 2003 study of pilot whale tissues conducted in the Faroe Islands had found a rate of 1 to 1.9 ppm in muscle tissue, 5.0 to 8.4 ppm in kidney tissue and 8.4 to 11.8 ppm of mercury in liver tissue.[54]


Due to pollution, consumption of the meat and blubber is now considered unhealthy. Children and pregnant women are especially at risk, and prenatal exposure to methylmercury and PCBs primarily from the consumption of pilot whale meat has resulted in neuropsychological deficit in children.[55][56]

In November 2008, New Scientist reported that research in the Faroe Islands led to the recommendation by the Faroese government that the consumption of pilot whale meat in the Faroes should stop as it has proven to be too toxic.[57] However, the Faroese government did not forbid the consumption of pilot whale meat, but the advice from Joensen and Weihe resulted in reduced consumption, according to a senior Faroese health official.[58]

In June 2011 the Faroese Food and Veterinary Authorities sent out an official recommendation regarding the consumption of meat and blubber from the pilot whale.[59] They recommend that because of the pollution of the whale:

  • Adults should only eat one portion of pilot whale meat and blubber per month.
  • Special advice for women and girls:
    • Girls and women should not eat blubber at all until they have finished giving birth.
    • Women who plan to get pregnant within three months, pregnant women and women who breastfeed should probably not eat whale meat at all.
  • The kidneys and liver of the pilot whales should never be eaten.[60]

Cultural importance

Pilot whale hunt is an integral part of Faroese social culture. As the attenders of a grindadráp usually are men, women do usually not actively take part in it, but are bystanders or onlookers. This is part of the traditional division of labor concerning pilot whaling which is centuries old,[61] and has only changed little over time, though the method has changed quite a lot, considering that the boats nowadays have engines and most of the original weapons used to slaughter the whales are now forbidden. It is not allowed to hurt the whales in any way, and the killing must be done as fast as possible and can according to the new grind law only be done by using a new kind of weapon which in Faroese is called mønustingari. Another tool which is allowed and must be used is a round hook, which is put into the blow hole of the whale in order to drag the whale ashore. The whale must be ashore or at least be stuck on the seabed before it can be put down.[62]

In Faroese literature and art, grindadráp is an important motif. The grindadráp paintings by Sámal Joensen-Mikines rank internationally as some of his most important. They are part of a permanent exhibition in the Faroese art museum in the capital Tórshavn. The Danish governor (amtmand) of the Faroe Islands, Christian Pløyen (1803–1867), wrote the pilot whaling ballad, a Faroese ballad written in Danish entitled "Grindavísan". It was written during his term of office (1830–1847) and was printed in Copenhagen in 1835.[63]

The Danish chorus line is Raske drenge, grind at dræbe det er vor lyst. In English: Tough boys, to slay the grind that's our desire. or Healthy lads grind to kill - That's what we like.[64]

These old verses are still sung by the Faroese today along with the traditional Faroese chain dance.[65] In recent years the grindavísan has been sung in a more modern way by the Faroese Viking Metal band Týr, the melody is the same and the verses are the same, only much shorter version of the ballad and with instruments.[66]


Records of the drive exist in part since 1584, and continuously from 1709—the longest period of time for statistics existing for any wild animal slaughter in the world.[67]

The catch is divided into shares known in Faroese as a skinn, which is an age-old measurement value that derives from agricultural practices. One skinn equals 38 kg of whale meat plus 34 kg of blubber: in total 72 kg.

Period Drives Whales Skinn
1709–19501,195178,2591,360,160 |
Period Drives Whales Skinn
1991–20001019,21266,284 |
Period Drives Whales Skinn

In 2013, a total of 1524 cetaceans were killed: 1104 pilot whales and 430 white-sided dolphins.[69]

In 2014, at total of 53 cetaceans were killed: 48 pilot whales and 5 northern bottlenose whales which stranded by themselves and after that were butchered for food.[68]

  • Long-term annual average catch 1709–1999: 850
  • Annual average catch 1900–1999: 1,225
  • Annual average catch 1980–1999: 1,511
  • Annual average catch 1990–1999: 956


Surveys of the size of the Northeast Atlantic pilot whale population have been conducted by the North Atlantic Marine Mammal Commission. These surveys converged on a figure of 778,000 pilot whales.[70] The pilot whale is not registered as an endangered species. The IUCN lists both species of pilot whale as "least concern" in the Red List of Threatened Species.

In its Red List of Threatened Species, the International Union for Conservation of Nature lists both the long-finned and short-finned pilot whales with "least concern" status, according to its 2018 assessment. In a previous assessment in 1996, the organization listed the species in the "lower risk/least concern" category. The IUCN also says that with the NAMMCO-estimated population size of 778,000 in the eastern North Atlantic, with approximately 100,000 around the Faroes, Faroese catches of 850 per year are probably sustainable.[71]

According to the American Cetacean Society, pilot whales are not considered endangered. The society cites "there are likely to be almost a million long-finned pilot whales and at least 200,000 short-finned pilot whales worldwide".[72]

The population figure of 778,000 is accepted by the International Whaling Commission's Scientific Committee. Those in favour of whaling, such as the North Atlantic Marine Mammal Commission in their 1997 and 1999 reports on the hunt, claim that this is a conservative estimate,[70] whilst others opposed to the hunt, such as the Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society, cite data that the figure is overestimated. This means that the average kill from 1990–1999 of 956 animals each year represents about 0.1% of the population, which is considered sustainable by the IUCN and ACS.[73]

About a thousand pilot whales are killed this way each year on the Faroe Islands together with usually a few dozen up to a few hundred animals belonging to other small cetaceans species, but numbers vary greatly per year.[74]


Faroese laws and the laws of the international communities allow for the Faroese pilot whale drive,[75] while several international special interest groups object to this practice. Proponents of Faroese pilot whaling defend it with several arguments. The drive is described as essential to the Faroese culture and provides high quality food to substitute for the islands' inability to sustain land based agriculture and that the number of whales taken are not harmful to the general pilot whale population. The pilot whale slaughter does not exist as a commercial slaughter and is proven as only a communal food distribution among local households. However, whale meat can be sold in restaurants. The slaughter of North Atlantic dolphin populations, at the rate of 0.1% per year, is sustainable for the species.[76] In addition, proponents point to the Faroese law which prohibits causing an animal unnecessary harm, and to the fact that the current method (spinal lance and blunt hook) has been shown to generally cause immediate death in the animal within a second or so.

Opponents of the whaling often cite the methods, which involve knives, hooks, and the chasing of whales by powerboats, as being inherently cruel to social animals capable of communication within their species. Opponents further note that most whale drives do not take "a few minutes" as often cited by Faroese government officials. However, the drive itself is often included in this figure, which takes a significantly longer time than the actual kills, which are usually all complete in less than half an hour.

Photographs in the media of the pilot whale drive display a red sea soaked in blood with the bodies of dead pilot whales. These images cause outrage worldwide. Proponents of the whale drive will defend these images saying that blood is a natural consequence of any animal slaughter and that those who have been outraged have been alienated from the process and basic consequences of animal food production.

Proponents of the whale drive further argue that the pilot whale lives its whole life naturally in its natural environment, the Atlantic Ocean, and then is slaughtered in few minutes, with an average time of death of 30 seconds, in contrast to the fate of conventional livestock. Causing an animal unnecessary or excessive pain and discomfort is also prohibited by the Faroese law.

Opponents argue that the whale drive is cruel and unnecessary. The chief medical officer of the Faroes and scientist Pál Weihe warned against consumption of pilot whale meat, since it has been shown to contain toxic levels of mercury, PCBs, and environmental poisons.[77] They announced in a letter to the prime minister and two ministers in late 2008 that pilot whale meat and blubber contains too much mercury, and they advised people to stop eating the meat and blubber of the pilot whale, due to PCBs and DDT derivatives, which they argue is not safe for human consumption.[11][78] In 2011, although the government did not ban the consumption of whale meat, the Faroese food and veterinary authority announced their recommendation to the Faroese people regarding the safety of eating meat and blubber from the pilot whale.[12] They recommend that because of the pollution of the whale:

  • Adults should only eat one dinner with pilot whale meat and blubber per month.
  • Special advice for women and girls:
    • Girls and women should not eat blubber at all until they have finished giving birth to children.
    • Women who plan to get pregnant within 3 months, pregnant women and women who breastfeed should probably not eat whale meat at all.
  • The kidneys and liver of the pilot whales should not be eaten.[79]

During the recent history of the grindadráp, the tools of the catch have modernized. Cellular telephones and radio allow the islands to be alerted to a sighting within the course of minutes. The use of private motorboats gives the whalers more speed and maneuverability on the water. The dull blowhole hook, adopted in response to concerns over cruelty, had the additional effect of further increasing the effectiveness of Faroese attempting to beach the whales. In spite of how such improvements to the tools could make the grindadráp more effective, the number of pilot whales caught, both overall and per whale drive, is less than in preceding centuries.

In 1989, the Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society commissioned an animated public information film (narrated by Anthony Hopkins) to raise awareness on the Faroe Islands' whaling of long-finned pilot whales.[80] The film is one minute long and caused controversy when it was released. Joining the controversy was a book released in 2011 by the Faroese photographer Regin W. Dalsgaard, titled Two Minutes. The book was a photo-journalistic account of a pilot whale drive in a Faroese bay. The title referred to the time it took a whale to be killed after having been beached.[81]

Anti-whaling campaigns

2015 Sleppið Grindini

Sea Shepherd Conservation Society led an operation called 2015 Sleppið Grindini on the Faroe Islands from 15 June until 1 October 2015. The Sea Shepherds works with direct action and there were several confrontations between them and the Faroese/Danish police, and several activists were arrested for disrupting during pilot whale hunts, both on sea and on land. The organisation succeeded in getting big media coverage from larger media from around the world. They took, according to themselves, lots of photos and many hours of video from the whale hunts, which they will use in order to damage Faroese tourism in order to put pressure on the Faroese authorities to end the pilot whale drive hunts. Through an email campaign there was also an attempt of pressuring the Danish Parliament to stop the hunt,[82] but as part of the home rule act of 1948 all laws and regulations relating to fishing and hunting (such as whaling) in the Islands are governed by the Faroese Parliament.[22][23] Just like the year before their campaign led to much public debate in the Faroe Islands and updating of the Faroese Grind Law. Their actions also seems to have pushed the Faroese politics into further self-governing. The Faroese foreign minister Poul Michelsen and the Danish minister of integration Inger Støjberg made an agreement that the Faroe Islands will take over foreign matters. The Faroese government from 2011–2015 asked the Danish government if they could forbid Sea Shepherd to enter the Faroe Islands after the 2014 GrindStop campaign had ended and before the 2015 Sleppið Grindini started, but the Danish government said no.[83] The Faroese authorities will take over the responsibilities for foreign affairs sometime in 2016 according to the plan.[84]

The confrontations led to several trials, both in the Faroese court and in Østre Landsret. On 7 August 2015 the Faroese Court passed sentence upon five activists from Sea Shepherd for disturbing the pilot whale hunt in Bøur and Tórshavn on 23 July 2015. The judge found all five guilty in breaking the Grind law and they were fined 5,000 to 35,000 DKK and the Sea Shepherd Global was fined 75,000 DKK.[85] The five Sea Shepherd activists appealed to the higher court, Østre Landsret, and the Public Prosecutor counter-appealed. The case was treated in Østre Landsret in Tórshavn on 9 and 10 March 2016. One week later, on 17 March 2016 the court changed some of the sentences of the Faroese court, some were lowered and the one of 5,000 DKK was raised to 12,500 DKK.[86] Sea Shepherd refuses to pay the fines. The public prosecutor prepared another case against the Sea Shepherd, where the prosecutor says that people from Sea Shepherd had put several lives at risk, including a 10-year-old boy, two Faroese seamen and two police officers, by sailing recklessly in front of and across of the boats which were driving the pod of whales towards the beach, and colliding with a boat from the fishing inspection authorities.[86]

There is video footage filmed by one of Sea Shepherd UK's covert crew on Operation Bloody Fjords 2018 in the Faroe Islands.[87]

Hunting pictures

See also

Notes and references

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Further reading

  • Joensen, Jóan Pauli 2009: Pilot Whaling in the Faroe Islands. History, Ethnography, Symbol, Faroe University Press, Tórshavn 2009
  • Kerins, Seán, 2010. A Thousand Years of Whaling, A Faroese Common Property Regime, Canadian Circumpolar Press, Canada.193pp. Circumpolar Research Series No. 12, ISBN 978-1-896445-52-6.
  • Sanderson, Kate (1990). Whales and Whaling in the Faroe Islands. Tórshavn: Dept. of Fisheries. OCLC 29755860.
  • van Ginkel, Rob (2007). "Bloody Rituals: The Sicilian Mattanza and the Faroese Grindadrap". Coastal Cultures: An Anthropology of Fishing and Whaling Traditions. Apeldoorn: Het Spinhuis. p. 35. ISBN 978-90-5589-294-5.
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