faroe islands sea shepherd campaign

This moving account of the cruel Faroese custom of killing whales and dolphins comes from Jo; a Sea Shepherd UK volunteer and details her time spent on campaign in the Faroe Islands. 

“In July 2014 I was grateful to be a member of the Grindstop 2014 crew. A Sea Shepherd campaign in the Faroe Islands. We were there to try to stop the annual killings of entire pods of wild pilot whales.

On arrival at Stansted airport in the UK I was aware of the hostilities towards Sea Shepherd by some Faroese. Lining up to check into my flight a woman bashed her trolley into my legs then grabbed her child turning her away from me. I’ve never before experienced such behaviour towards myself and was wondering what was to come! In contrast later a stranger came up and hugged me saying thank you Sea Shepherd!

Having arrived and being met by team leader Guiga Pirá, I was happy to be with like-minded kind passionate and genuine people, all there for the same reason to try to stop the barbaric killing of entire wild pods of pilot whales.

The campaign itself had both land crew and sea crew. The job of the land crew was to keep watch over the surrounding seas for pods of whales and to keep the boat crews updated. Whilst I was there the crews managed to herd some pods back out to sea preventing their certain death.

The method of killing these wonderful sentient beings is barbaric. The Faroese call it a grindadráp. The pods are herded into killing bays by the Faroese on boats, they bang poles and make noises which frighten and confuse the whales. The hunt itself is extremely stressful for these animals. Once at the shore they are jumped on by a rowdy group of men, who use hooks attached to ropes rammed into the whales blow holes. Their spinal cords are then severed and throats cut. Many whales take minutes to die. They scream out loud thrash about in agony, then the surrounding sea turns crimson red filled with their blood.

Whilst I was there no whales were killed so I did not have to witness this dreadful event, but every second it was at the back of everyone’s mind that a grindadráp may occur at any minute. We were primed and ready to do whatever we could to defend the whales. Many other crew members did witness the killings and some like Magdalena Gschnitzer, Sergio Torbio Sánchez, Rosie Kunneke and Rudy de Kieviet were arrested whilst trying to stop a pod being killed, they were treated like criminals and three policemen held Rosie face down in the sand.

The Faroe Islands are exceptionally beautiful; healthy glorious landscapes and blue seas surrounding them. The islanders have a high standard of living and contrary to popular belief their supermarkets are full of all kinds of food, just like most western countries. They have no need whatsoever to eat pilot whales.

Studies have shown that pilot whales, being top of the food chain, have high levels of mercury, PCB’s and DDT derivatives in their blubber and meat. The Faroese chief medical officers Pál Weihe and Høgni Debes Joensen have announced these facts to the Faroese. Some have taken heed, especially pregnant women, but many choose to ignore this and continue to eat toxic whale meat in the belief it’s their right to do so as it’s their tradition.

No-one disputes that in bygone centuries this barbaric practice helped sustain the local human population, but in the 21st century it is not only totally unnecessary, it is a dreadful and horrific event which causes unbelievable suffering and death to entire pods of sentient whales.

One retired whaler I spoke to, whom I initially met whilst on watch with him shouting abuse at us from his car, was clearly very passionate about their right to kill whales, telling me they were sent from God and theirs to kill and eat. The pollution aspect was however one that made him think, when I suggested his grand-children may not fair so well with a diet of proven toxicity.

This practice must end, it’s time to move on.”