- Joshua Nevitt
The practice of dolphin fishing in the Faroe Islands has led to close scrutiny after killing more than 1,400 dolphins in one day, in what is believed to be a record catch.
A group of white-faced dolphins were forced to swim into the largest fjord in the North Atlantic region on Sunday.
They were followed by boats in the shallow waters of Skalapentor Beach in Estoroy, where fishermen killed the dolphins with knives.
Fishermen dragged their bodies ashore to distribute to local people for consumption.
Photographic footage shows dolphins swimming in the water, which turned red in blood, while hundreds of people stood on the shore watching them.
Hunting marine mammals, mainly whales, is known as “Grindadrap” (or Grindadrap in the Faroe Islands) and is a tradition that has been practiced for hundreds of years in the remote Faroe Islands.
The Faroe Islands government says an average of 600 pilot whales are caught each year, and white-faced dolphins are caught in smaller numbers, such as 35 dolphins in 2020 and 10 dolphins in 2019.
Supporters say whaling is a sustainable way to gather food from nature and an important part of their cultural identity, while animal rights activists oppose it, deeming slaughter to be brutal and unnecessary.
Sunday’s hunt was no different, with international environmental groups encircling the fishermen to protest the killing of dolphins.
However, the scale of the killing on the beach shocked many local residents and even drew criticism from the groups involved in the practice.
After taking into account the number of dolphins killed, records showed this was the largest number of dolphins killed in a single day in the Faroe Islands, an autonomous region of Denmark, said Bjarne Mikkelsen, a marine biologist from the Faroe Islands.
He added that the previous record was 1,200 in 1940, and the second largest catch was in 1879, numbering 900, 856 in 1873, and 854 in 1938.
Olafur Sjoerdarberg, president of the Faroese Whaling Association, admitted in an interview with the BBC that the killing was excessive.
Why were so many dolphins killed?
‘Shock amongst the people’
“It was a huge mistake,” said Siordarberg, who was not involved in the hunt. “When the catch was found, they estimated it at only 200 dolphins.”
He added that when the killing began, they discovered the true size of the catch.
“Someone should have known better,” he said. “Most people are shocked by what happened.”
Despite this, according to Siordarberg, this hunt was approved by the local authorities, and did not violate any laws.
Fishing operations are regulated in the Faroe Islands, are non-commercial and regulated at the community level, and often occur spontaneously when someone discovers a catch of marine mammals.
Hunters must have an official training certificate that qualifies them to kill animals as a condition of participating in the hunt.
‘Legal but not common’
Sjordur Scully, a Danish MP for the Faroe Islands, said killing white-faced dolphins was “legal but not common”.
“People are angry,” Scully visited Scalaputor Beach to talk to local residents on Monday.
Despite this, he defended hunting, describing it as “humane” if it happened in a proper way.
The fishing process involves using a specially designed spear to cut the spinal cord of a whale or dolphin before cutting off the neck.
With this method, it takes “less than a second to kill a whale,” as Scully puts it.
“From an animal welfare point of view, it’s a good method, much better than trapping cows and pigs,” he said.
A group from the Sea Shepherd Campaign disputed that, saying that “killing dolphins and pilot whales is rarely as fast as the Faroe Islands government describes”.
“Hunting can turn into time-consuming and often chaotic carnage,” the group says.
Prepare for a backlash
Studies show that most people are against the mass slaughter of dolphins in the Faroe Islands.
Trondor Olsen, a journalist with the Faroese radio station Kringfarb Furuya, said the national reaction on Sunday was “amazement and shock at the very large number”.
“We did a poll yesterday and asked if we should continue killing these dolphins. Just over 50 percent of people said no, while just over 30 percent said yes.”
In contrast, Olsen also said a separate poll indicated that 80 percent said they wanted to continue killing pilot whales.
Opinion polls provide a snapshot of public opinion about the killing of marine mammals.
Criticism of fishing operations in the Faroe Islands has gone through ups and downs over the years, and is emerging on the scene from time to time, as happened in the famous documentary “Seaspiracy” on Netflix earlier this year.
This time, however, locals say the reaction, particularly within the whaling community, has been extraordinarily horrific.
“There has been a lot of international attention,” Olsen said. “I think people are preparing for a very backlash.”
“This is the time for activists to put more pressure on them,” he added. “It will be different this time because the numbers are so big.”