Constructive Discussion on Killing in the Faroe Islands – Faroese Speak Back

A man from the Faroe Islands contacted me on Facebook.  He wrote the first intelligent and openminded piece we’ve received thusfar (some of Nick’s posts notwithstanding.)  Since the slaughter of the dolphins and whales in the Faroe Islands results in the deaths of a thousand Pilot “Whales” (actually a large dolphin) per year, and the Faroe Islands is being accused of overfishing, we feel it is time to open this dialogue up to solution-oriented discussions, looking for ways to allow the Faroese to thrive without killing cetaceans.

The dialogue began as a result of a recent winter visit by Ady Gil and Pete Bethune, who went there without the animosity of Paul Watson and Sea Shepherd Conservation Society.  Ady and Pete reported that the people of the Faroes were gracious, warm, and very likable.  Of course, we aren’t surprised that this is the case, but that doesn’t change the fact that their “Grind” is viciously slaughtering dolphins and whales.

Though some of the winter images look stark, we’ll have to point out that in the summer the place is rich, green and lush.  Even now, at the waterfront, the place isn’t all that cold and forbidding. (some photos by Benno Hansen

Before we begin the dialogue, it’s important to remember that, no matter how peaceful these scenes may look, THIS is the reality that some in the Faroe Islands make every year:

This is the reality of the Grind

these verdant lands are being tainted, covered in blood by the unnecessary killing of whales and dolphins.

These verdant lands are being tainted, covered in blood by the unnecessary killing of whales and dolphins.














This dialogue is where such changes begin.

I received the following email from a man in the Faroes:

Hello John.

I would just like to write to you, with a few corrections and facts regarding your view and thoughts about the Faroe Islands and the people living here. Please don’t see this as an attack on your conservationist ideals. I have read some of your posts, and I must say I am positively surprised by your views and ideas, as they don’t seem to contain any violent agenda, much unlike those of Watson and the SSCS in general.

It is a common misperception that the killing of pilot whales in the Faroes is some sort of test of manhood. This is inaccurate.
The killing of pilot whales, also known as grind, is thought to date as far back as the 1100-1200’s, though written history from these times is almost non-existent concerning the Faroes. The first written records of pilot whales being killed in the Faroes dates from the middle to late 1400’s. Since the mid-1500’s every single whale of any kind (e.g. Pilot Whales, Porpoise, Dolphin and the Northern Bottlenose Whale) that has been killed in the Faroes, has been recorded with date, location, size, gender, pregnancy status, lenght, weight, approx. age, amount of meat and blubber as well as how many parts it was divided into and what persons received these parts. It has always been illegal to trade or sell ones part of the whales, but this has unfortunately been broken a few times in modern times, although the responsible parties have been fined and their whale meat confiscated.
Since the grind became a part of Faroese way of life, the killing and dividing of it has been strictly regulated by the people themselves. It originated in a time of famine in the Faroes, when the Islands where a lowly colony of the norse kingdom (look up the Kalmar Union for more information). When the Union broke apart, the Faroes remained a colony of Denmark, with strict laws governing the people and trade in the Islands very harsly until 1856, during which the Grind became a part of the faroese way to break the Danish embargo on the Islands (not that unlike the Boston Tea-party in spirit), as well as a universal way to feed the people. Since the begining, the division of the whales has been strictly regulated, with one whale being given to the ones who found the pod, one being given to the local hospital, one being given to the local magistrate and the rest being divided equally between those who took part in the killing, the elderly and infirm (who did not have the health to participate) as well as the poor. If the pod was big enough, equal parts were divided between the rest of the inhabitants of the village where the killing took place. If the pod was too small, it was only divided between the hospital, the elderly, the sick and the poor.
This is in large still active today, only it is now written into the official laws of the country. It has always been illegal to gain monetary profit from the whales, and those who did where considered social derelicts in the country.
The methods of driving and killing the whales have also been strictly regulated since the beginning, being reviewed regularly so that the animals did not suffer needlessly during the drive and subsequent killing, as well as to ensure as swift and painless a death as possible.

We Faroese have never claimed that we NEED to kill the whales to ensure our survival. This claim is not ours, but has been created about us to use as propaganda against us. We claim that the whales are a part of our diet, like the sheep and cows that we have here, and have an economical benefit to those who receive parts from the grind, as it is free meat, and one part can ensure anything from 5 to 50 free hot dinner meals for one single family.
It is true that not all Fareose like the taste of the grind, but then, not all Americans like the taste of McDonalds do they?
The participation in the grind is slowly diminnishing, as well as the consumption of the meats, as more and more people give up the grind. This is not because of you and your friends view of our Islands, but because of the level of polution dumped by the industrialized nations surrounding us in the North Atlantic. This is a factor that we generally fear, and one we would like you and your likeminded conservationsits to pay much greater heed to, because as we see our hunts to be sustainable, the continued pollution will cause detrimental effect to all marine life, and thus eventually end our lives as well. We Faroese give generous amounts to conservationist societies, such as WWF and Greenpeace, because we, perhaps more than most people in Europe, see first hand the effects of their pollution of our nature and marine life. We love our nature, our birds, fish, whales and other animals. But this does not mean, that we don’t see them as a source of foods. As long as we can do our hunting of these species on a sustainable level, we see no harm to this. This is perhaps due to our level of commitment to nature, as we can not close our eyes to the origin of our dinner, but have perhaps watched our children play with said animal a few weeks prior in the fields.
The only foods we do not import these days, are those we receive from the oceans. We are self-sufficient with fish and complement this with free whalemeat. Everything else, from potatoes to cd-players, we import. There have been attempts at growing wheat, corn, majs and similar crops in the Faroes, but none have taken and survived our climate. We have had several greenhouses that have tried to grow other crops, like tomatoes, cucumbers etc, but the only plants that seem to thrive in them, are flowers. It is also very rare, that these greenhouses survive our storms for very long, they have a life expectancy of between 1 and 6 years in general.
We have roughly 100.000 sheep on the islands. These are not enough to feed the inhabitants (some of your fellow conservationists claim the simple solution is to kill half the people living here) and the few cows we have here suply most of our milk. We have had attempts at raising pigs, goats, chickens and other animals here, but the weather has been to harsh for them to thrive, and thus their owners have not been capable of turning a profit and gone bankrupt.
As a note, I can ad that we import much of our beef from New Zealand and Argentine and much of our sheeps meat from New Zealand and Iceland. The few potatoes grown on the islands are mostly private and eaten by the family that planted them, none are harvested commercially in the Faroes.
As for the fishing, the EU along with Norway, Scotland and England have a large campaign going at the moment, where they accuse us of being the solitary reason for the overfishing in the North Atlantic. Yes, we have done some overfishing in regards to the estimates from the research community, but we have paid the price from this with almost no fish for some of the following years. But, seen from our perspective, the EU has claimed 350.000 tonnes of fish living mostly inside our borders, while “generously” granting us 5% of the same quota. Why should we agree to this? We are NOT a part of the EU. We are not a member of the European Community as such, and are not treated as equals in any way. We have therefore claimed ourselves a quota of 15% inside our own borders, and have told the EU and Norway, that they can fish their remaining quota outside our borders. This has caused them to go into a frenzy, and their subsequent reactions towards us. The ongoing perpetual shrimp-war with Canada amounts to much the same. Canada wants to fish as much shrimp as possible, and therefore threatens us to relinquish our parts of the quota, so Canada can fish more than their fair share.

And just to end with, we do not receive 85 million Euros a year in aid.
We receive 46 million Euro a year from Denmark, as payment for running several departments of the Danish goverment in the Faroes.
This amount has been frozen for some years now, while the cost of these services have grown, leading to a deficit in these departments that is to be payed by the faroese taxpayers.
The original amount was close to 114 million Euro, but has been downsized according to the wishes of the Faroese government, along with the corresponding authority being taken over by Faroese jurisdiction and control, their plan being, that when the Faroes has gained control over all aspect of jurisdiction, and the payment from Denmark consquently is 0, the Faroes can declare themselves a sovereign nation.

Although I realize that even 46 million Euro seems like a huge amount of money for 50.000 people, I would like to point out (and I’m sure you can ask Pete and Ady about this) we have an insanely expensive country to live in. I’ll give you a few examples.
1 carton of milk (1 ltr.) costs 1,55 Euro.
1 pound of meat (cow) costs 6,75 Euro.
1 bottle of beer 0,33ltr. costs (in a pub) 3,25 Euro.
1 chicken costs 5,50 Euro.
1 piece of fruit (bananas, apples etc.) costs 0,5 Euro.
1/2 pound of coffee costs 4 Euro
and 2 tubes of Zendium toothpaste are currently on sale for 3,49 Euro.
On the more expensive side, the cheapest new Toyota Auris costs 28.272 Euro and an average house costs 168.000 Euro.
Compare this to an average yearly salary of 26-27.000 Euro and a maximun taxation by the government of 52% and 25% VAT to boot.

Don’t get us wrong, we are a very nice, helpful and friendly people. But we are also a fiercely patriotic and proud people. If we are pushed then we push back, which is why I sincerely hope that your more peaceful views on an approach towards the Faroes wins precedens over the more aggressive methods that Watson and the SSCS generally advocate.

Jógvan (last name withheld by editor)
The Faroe Islands
My reply  included :

Dear Jogvan,

First off, thank you for replying with your concept of the facts instead of simply demanding some god-given right to slaughter whatever you can find.

A heated debate has been going on for months on my organization’s site, Protect The Ocean. A fellow, Nick, a Faroese man, constantly defends your nation, and he is amongst those who claims that it is necessary to kill whales for survival. So it’s not exactly propaganda used against you, but statements made by your own people. (Yes, we can tell where the posts come from, based on the ISP info.) Generally, I allow Nick his rants in my “home” site, because I believe in the right to express oneself. In all of his writings, not once has he sent me anything as solid as this one letter of yours.

There are two important points:

1) You wrote “As long as we can do our hunting of these species on a sustainable level, we see no harm to this. This is perhaps due to our level of commitment to nature, as we can not close our eyes to the origin of our dinner, but have perhaps watched our children play with said animal a few weeks prior in the fields.”

This is the basis of our disagreement. From a statistical level, you see “no harm.” I have spent a LOT of time in the personal company of dolphins (and several of those creatures called a “whale” are actually dolphins, including the orcas.) Originally, I worked with them in captivity. Not for the movies, not as famous Ric O’Barry, but the same idea. It was there that I came to understand that they are individuals, highly complex, with individual and interpersonal relationships. These relationships and their intelligence were at least equal to our own. I say “at least” because while they always seem to figure out what we want or mean, we very seldom grasp theirs. In part, that is because their communications aren’t JUST clicks and whistles. We now know that their sounds occur at 60,000 cycles, and even up as high as 200,000 cycles, more than 10 times higher than we’re able to hear.

I recall a female that liked me well. Within the dolphin world, like us humans, they have sex as they want, not just for procreation. Well, she was gently coming on to me, fond of me. She accepted that I wasn’t interested, but remained fond of me. The male in the group, who fancied her, was always decent towards me, but a bit jealous of her attention in my direction. If she showed up while I was in the water or near the pool, he would splash water with fin or tail, saying “go away.” One time, while in the pool with her, he came over, took my wrist into his mouth, and gently (no marks, even) guided me to the side of the pool, saying “You, get out. She’s my girlfriend.” Very much like a teenage boy with a crush, no?

So I have come to know firsthand that they are not simply clever, as monkeys are clever. Far more than that. They live in family groups for 40-100 years. (Natural prey species have far more babies and live far shorter lives.) They don’t seem to have a concept within their society for our evil intentions… and certainly do not have a concept for betrayal.

As you probably know, dolphins have been protected by human law as far back as ancient Greece, because they have proven themselves friends to mankind. Even today, we see frequent authentic accounts of dolphins saving people, our pets, and even other species of cetaceans (dolphins and whales.) So attacking them, killing and eating them is the ultimate betrayal.

So you see, there IS harm done. Think of this: there are 4 billion people on this planet. We’re far from going extinct. But it’s still not okay to kill humans. Why not? Because, being sentient (self aware) they will suffer horrible, miss their loved ones and be mourned. Killing off the male may leave the family without a provider… It’s simply not right to cause such suffering so long as there are alternatives. It is the same when you kill cetaceans. They are mourned, they are missed, and lives that sometimes span a century are cut down in their prime. This isn’t anything like natural selection. It’s killing, murder. And in the Grind, entire extended families are killed, entire genetic groups. Amongst those groups may be an essential key to the entire species’ survival. It’s not okay at that level to be wiping them out either.

As you come to see that there is so much more in that rather unlikely body than simply some flesh you are used to eating, you begin to see why we are so passionate about what is being done to them. We see families, mothers and their babies, grandmothers… we see them as they actually are.

You may think “well, if they’re so smart, why don’t they get away?” As I said, they have no concept of betrayal, so they trust us. And, unlike us, they don’t attack fellow sapients (knowing right from wrong, having higher intellect.) Dolphins, even transitory groups of orcas, go out of their way to make friends with humans, both on boats and at the beaches. Think about it: The ones hunted in the Grind are easily powerful enough to break and kill people… but they don’t attack you. Do you think this is because they think they DESERVE attack and death? No, it is because it is not within their nature, as it is with less evolved beings, to attack and rend flesh from a fellow sapient being.

2) The other aspect is that while you feel your costs are high, I see very little difference between those prices you report and what is often paid in Europe or upscale areas of the United States. 46 million euros per year for 50,000 people is still nearly 1000 euros per person. That’s no insult, as it is free aid and does quite a bit to offset the cost of living on an island. (ANY island is going to be more expensive to live on. Even Hawaii, which most certainly can and does grow her own food, has high costs.)

The problem starts with your government. 52% tax, and then a 25% VAT? Toss the greedy bastards to the curb! 3/4 of your income is being taken from you by your government. Do they provide so much in return or are they just parasites?

Ecotourism might help your country some. I’m sure you realize this. It would have to be developed, of course. And there are other better technologies for growing food, I promise. I’ve seen it firsthand, even in harsh winter climates.

Watson is no friend of mine. I see him as an arrogant and self-serving man. But I DO understand the perspective. He, too, sees that you’re killing beings that are at least as intelligent, evolved and wise as we are… and that you don’t need to be. Yes, the “tradition” started long ago, before gasoline outboard engines and boats, when you would be bad off and grab at anything that came close enough to shore to eat. But that time is long gone. In the U.S., we had slavery at one time as well. We would snag up black-skinned people and force them to do our work, to do as we commanded. We would beat them, even kill them, if they did not obey. It is not a time our culture is proud of. I’m reasonably sure that, some day in the future, the Faroese people will look back upon the atrocities of the Grind with similar embarrassment.

Killing 1000 whales does not mean your survival. But every one that you kill — every one — that IS that creature’s survival.

I am not Ady Gil either. I don’t see all living beings as equal. Some are naturally prey. One can tell, because they reproduce in huge numbers, become able to reproduce at a very young age, live relatively short lives… So if you raise chickens, I will not fault you, so long as they are treated humanely while they are alive, and killed without unnecessary terror or maliciousness. It IS possible for humans to be kind in continuing our existence, if we bother to do so.

There is room for us to help each other. But you must also see what you do from an individual perspective, not just say “There are plenty of Right Whales in the world, so we can kill them.” (If that’s the criteria, shall we start eating unworthy humans?) And you must recognize that some of your reality is of your own making. The government is overbearingly large, and must change. AND you’ve chosen to continue living on that beautiful chain of islands. That comes at a price which YOU — not the innocent dolphins and whales that happen to pass by — must pay.

Those who live on other islands do so without killing dolphins and whales, and you can too. I have faith that, together, we can make killing these amazing creatures a thing of the past.



We welcome intelligent, constructive dialog.  The posts WILL be moderated, to avoid unnecessary vulgarity and counterproductive recriminations.  Other than that, this is an open discussion.  Protect The Ocean does not believe in unwarranted censorship.  We welcome your input and look forward to participation from all sides.

ED note: I’d have though that the last paragraph covered this adequately, but apparently not, so:

NOTICE: Posts that threaten violence or are nothing more than a blatant string of insults will NOT be approved.  Such behavior is inappropriate to a constructive dialogue, works against our mutual goals.  Please find more appropriate ways to express your displeasure.  Thank you.

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  1. Roger says:

    There are always other forms of low cost environmentally friendly sources of protein all I read above are excuses for the continuance of killing of pilot whales. Soon you will have more cases of Minamata´s disease and if not inbreeding which is quite evident for the close mindedness of your people will do you in and unfortunately the whales!

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