EVERY YEAR IN THE FAROE ISLANDS, just 230 miles north-west of Scotland, more than 800 small cetaceans are killed in drive hunts called grindadráp in Faroese.
The grind as the hunts are commonly called (actually grind is the Faroese word for pilot whales) could happen at any time of the year at any one of the 23 designated killing bays around the islands, though more commonly it occurs between June and September.
The grind hunts kill the entire pod they target, including pregnant females and juveniles. The hunts would be totally illegal under European Union legislation, because in the EU (including the kingdom of Denmark, of which the Faroe Islands is a part) it is not only illegal to kill pilot whales but it is even illegal to harass/stress any whales or other small cetaceans.
Despite Denmark being in the EU, the Faroe Islands are not, although they are within Europe and benefit substantially from subsidies from Denmark.
The killing of the pilot whales is rarely as quick as Faroese propaganda makes out. The Faroese drive the pod using RIBs, fishing boats, jet-skis and any other vessels they have available and often for miles, using a “wall of sound” to force it into a designated killing bay and right up into waist-deep shallow waters.
Because pilot whales are large animals they then often have to be dragged further ashore with ropes and a blásturongul (a type of blunt gaff-hook rammed into the whale’s blowhole) before the men attempt to sever the whale’s spinal cord with a mønustingari (a modified knife more like a short spear). A grindaknívur (traditional grind hunt knife) is used to cut through the whale’s neck.

DESPITE ATTEMPTED improvements to make the hunt more humane, the driving of the pod causes the whales considerable stress, and the manner of the killing is certainly not humane, and would never be approved in any European slaughterhouse.
Grindadráp can sometimes turn into drawn-out, often disorganised massacres of marine wildlife. Klaksvik was the site of the infamous grind on 19 July, 2010 – a hunt which went horribly wrong even by Faroese standards.
During that grind a total of 228 pilot whales were driven onto a beach large enough only for 100 whales, and there were too few men waiting to kill them.
The whales were left thrashing around on the beach, on rocks and everywhere in the bay, prolonging the suffering for many whales as their family-members were slowly killed around them.
Sea Shepherd volunteers have often witnessed the “sport” of the grind, with lots of Faroese men rushing to the killing bay. There is cheering, laughter and there can be no denying the bizarre festival-like atmosphere among men armed with knives, ropes and hooks.
The younger Faroese men are often seen smiling and posing for photographs while drenched in the blood of the whales they have killed as some kind of bizarre “badge of glory”.
Arguments for continuing such a needless and inhumane hunt to maintain a Faroese sense of “cultural history” are ridiculous. If we all used such excuses to continue old traditions then human sacrifice, bear-baiting, cock-fighting and many other historical barbaric traditions would never have been consigned to the history books.
Apparently the Faroese also think they need to maintain the killing of hundreds of pilot whales each year to maintain “community cohesion”. If this is really the case, then the Faroe Islands government need to take a hard look at what is wrong in its communities.
It is true that a large part of the resulting pilot-whale meat and blubber is divided up among those who take part in the hunt, and then divided up to the local community.
However, pilot-whale meat and blubber also ends up being sold in some Faroese stores and the market at Torshavn harbour, and tourists can purchase and eat pilot whale at establishments such as the Hotel Hafnia in Tórshavn, the Marco Polo and KOKS restaurants, and occasionally at the Sjoemansheim Hotel in Klaksvik and no doubt many more.
So there is a commercial element to this hunt, despite the repeated claims of the Faroese government.
Why anyone, including the Faroese themselves, would choose still to eat pilot whales today is a mystery.
As the Danish food critic Trine Lai rightly points out on her recent food blog about KOKS restaurant on the Faroes: “The pilot whale is in fact not considered human food any more, because it is full of mercury and other heavy metals from the pollution of the Atlantic Ocean, and it is recommended not to eat it more than once or twice a month.”
In fact the Faroese chief medical officers Pál Weihe and Høgni Debes Joensen announced back in November 2008 that pilot-whale meat and blubber contain too much mercury, PCBs and DDT derivatives to be safe for human consumption.

THAT LEAVES THE grindadráp as a relic of a bygone age – a needless hunt of hundreds of pilot whales and dolphins each year that knowingly poisons the Faroese people, is sanctioned by the Faroese government, is defended by the kingdom of Denmark and is maintained under ludicrous arguments of “history and culture”.
Despite claims from pro-grind Internet bloggers, the grindadráp is not designated as sustainable under ASCOBANS (Agreement on the Conservation of Small Cetaceans in the Baltic, North East Atlantic, Irish and North Seas). This is because of both the lack of accurate pilot-whale population data and the ocean areas covered by the treaty in regards to Appendix II species.
The grindadráp has not been declared “sustainable” by the CMS (Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals) either, for the same reasons
Many pro-grindadráp articles share a common feature in that they completely fail to mention the Faroese drive hunts of other small cetaceans.
The truth is that the Faroese kill pilot whales and four other Appendix II species: Atlantic white-sided dolphins, bottlenose dolphins, Risso’s dolphins and northern bottlenose whales.
The statistics are grim, especially for such a small archipelago with a decreasing population of only around 48,000. Since the year 2000, the Faroese have hunted 9938 pilot whales, 3652 Atlantic white-sided dolphins, 45 bottlenose dolphins, 24 Risso’s dolphins and 29 bottlenose whales.
In 2013 (the last year in which there was not a Sea Shepherd campaign in the Faroe Islands) the Faroe islanders killed 1104 pilot whales as well as every member of a pod of 430 Atlantic white-sided dolphins on 13 August in a bay at Hvalba, on the southern island of Suduroy.
Sea Shepherd was the first organisation to confront the horrific slaughter of pilot whales and dolphins in the Danish Faroe Islands back in 1983.
Sea Shepherd returned in 1985 and 1986 with a crew from the BBC to produce the documentary Black Harvest and returned again in 2000, 2010, 2011, 2014 and 2015. Eight field campaigns, numerous confrontations and thousands of whales saved.

SEA SHEPHERD NEVER expects quick or overnight victories. Our campaigns in the Faroe Islands have lasted 32 years, and these campaigns will continue to evolve until the slaughter that the Faroese call the grindadráp (murder of whales) is ended.
The Sea Shepherd campaign Operation Grindstop reduced the kills to 48 pilot whales in 2014, and last year Operation Sleppid Grindini reduced the number of cetaceans killed to 492 pilot whales, even when faced with new Faroese laws protecting the hunts from Sea Shepherd’s non-violent activist crews.
The direct intervention of the Danish Navy defending active grind hunts from Sea Shepherd’s actions resulted in the seizure of four Sea Shepherd RIBs and multiple deportations.
Of course the Faroese (and the Danish) are going to defend the grindadráp and are going to attempt to put a positive spin on it, claiming sustainability, tradition and culture.
In my mind, and in the opinion of Sea Shepherd, there can be no justification for such an atrocity against marine wildlife and hopefully all divers reading this article will agree.

Sea Shepherd,
www.seashepherd uk.org