Operation Ferocious Isles - Sea Shepherd’s Pilot Whale Defense Campaign in the Faeroe Islands
An Animal Rights Article from All-Creatures.org


Sea Shepherd Conservation Society
June 2015

As many as 1,000 endangered long-finned pilot whales are brutally killed in the Faeroe Islands each year. The killing occurs mainly during the summer months during so called “traditional” communal hunts that locals refer to as "grindadráp" or simply, “the grind,” but more accurately this practice should be called what it truly is - mass slaughter.

pilot whale slaughter

The pilot whale grind is similar to the annual dolphin slaughter in Japan, documented in the Academy Award-winning film, The Cove. The main difference, and thus challenge for Sea Shepherd, is that there are at least 23 different coves in the Faeroe Islands where a grind could potentially take place, as opposed to one main cove in Taiji. Sea Shepherd has been actively opposing and confronting the Faeroese grinds since 1985 and will remain one of the foremost advocates for these endangered whales.

The Grind

  • The majority of North Atlantic cetaceans give birth to their calves in the warm waters of the equator before migrating past the Faeroe Islands to feed in the nutrient rich waters of Svalbard and the Arctic.
  • Long-finned pilot whales pass by the North Atlantic Islands while pursuing squid, their main source of food.
  • Recorded first as early as 1586, the Faeroese developed a method of whaling that involves stranding pods of small cetaceans on certain designated beaches. When a pod of cetaceans, primarily long- and short-finned pilot whales (bottlenose dolphins, Atlantic white-beaked dolphins, Atlantic white-sided dolphins and harbor porpoises can also be taken) are spotted offshore, the grind, or whale slaughter, commences.
  • Small boats herd the cetaceans towards a low-lying shore. As the pod approaches land, the boats continue to harass and frighten the mammals until they’re washed up on shore. Once beached, a knife is used to cut through the veins and arteries that supply blood to the pilot whales head. Some pilot whales suffer for as much as 30 seconds while others can take up to four minutes to die.
  • Those pilot whales that do not wash ashore have a gaff hook beaten into their blowhole and are then pulled ashore by rope.
  • The whale meat is divided up among the locals although many times the whale meat is simply left to rot on the beach.

pilot whale slaughter

pilot whale slaughter

Sea Shepherd in the Faeroes

Sea Shepherd Conservation Society has been the leading opposition against the slaughter of Pilot Whales in the Danish Faeroe Islands. Sea Shepherd intends to intervene in the grind, when at all possible, to prevent the unnecessary loss of such precious marine wildlife that has no place in modern times.Captain Paul Watson has led campaigns to oppose the hunt in 1985, 1986, 2000, and again in 2011.

Operation Ferocious Isles, Sea Shepherd’s ongoing pilot whale defense campaign, was launched on July 15, 2011.No whales were killed while Sea Shepherd patrolled the Islands. Our efforts against the Faeroese whalers are documented in the BBC documentary “Black Harvest” as well as the Animal Planet series Whale Wars: Viking Shores.

Is this Slaughter Legal?

The long-finned pilot whale is listed in Appendix II of Convention on Migratory Species (CMS), meaning that the International Union for Conservation of Nature has determined that although the species is not necessarily threatened with extinction, it may become so unless hunting is closely controlled. With a wide range of threats to populations, from military sonar to entanglement in fishing gear, it is believed that populations could face a reduction of 30% over three generations.

Therefore, the Convention on the Conservation of European Wildlife and Natural Habitats classifies the long-finned pilot whale as “strictly protected” under Appendix II. While the Faeroe Islands are not a member of the European Union, they remain a Danish Protectorate. In other words, even though the Faeroes are self-governing, Denmark controls the police, defense, foreign policy, and the currency. The primary reason for the Faeroes abstaining from joining the EU was in an effort to prevent the EU from meddling in their fishing policies. The slaughter of cetaceans is illegal within the European Union.

Is Whale Meat Poisonous?

North Atlantic pilot whales, because of their position in the food chain as an apex predator, are poisoned by large amounts of environmental pollutants. Meat resulting from the grind contains high amounts of arsenic, cadmium, zinc, lead, copper mercury, and selenium.

In 2008, the chief medical officers of the Islands declared that pilot whale meat contains too much mercury and other contaminants to be safe for human consumption. Mercury poisoning has been found among Islanders resulting in “damage to fetal neural development, high blood pressure, and impaired immunity in children, as well as increased rates of Parkinson’s disease, circulatory problems and possibly infertility in adults”.

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