In a typical grindadrap drive hunt, a pod of pilot whales or Atlantic white sided dolphins is chased by dozens of small fishing boats, private speedboats, high powered RIBs, and sometimes jet skis, often for many miles and for several hours- an action itself which is illegal in Denmark, the UK, the entire European Union, and many other countries around the world due to the proven stress it causes to the animals.
There is rarely, if ever, any attempt to split large pods into a smaller group which can be more humanely killed by the number of Faroese men waiting on the beach. Neither is there any separation of animals to be released because they are pregnant or are a new mother with a young calf. An attempt to do so would anyway likely fail as the pilot whale family structure and the bonding between these intelligent animals is so strong it would make it almost impossible to get them to leave each other.
In fact, the method of the grindadrap drive hunt makes best use of the pilot whales or dolphins total dedication to their family members, to ensure every individual of the pod is driven into the shallows and none even try to escape while the killers on the beach go from animal to animal, killing each in turn in front of their relatives, until all lay dead - their family and their genetic heritage wiped out within a few hours.
What does this mean?
It means that the pro-whaling claim of a humane hunt of “wild animals who have lived long free lives" is far from an honest description of the hunts.
The unborn, the weaning babies and juvenile pilot whales or dolphins have not had long, happy and free lives. Even if many of the animals have lived to become adults and are lucky enough to have had calves of their own - they have likely to have already endured many challenges caused by humans. They may have suffered physical stress or illness caused by industrial pollutants in the ocean, much of which has bioaccumulated in species they depend on as food. They have had to avoid being killed as bycatch by industrial fishing vessels or be entangled and drowned in ghostnets. They have had to flee from and sometimes be disorientated by noise from shipping, naval exercises, or fossil fuel exploration. Many have had to also endure internal damage or slow starvation from accidentally ingesting plastic marine debris.
Unborn pilot whales, ignored in official statistics and by Faroese politicians [photos by Sea Shepherd]
At almost every grindadrap hunt (and our crew have been present at 48 hunts since Operation Bloody Fjords was launched in 2017 alone), our volunteers document young calves who have just begun their lives, and pregnant mothers who are carrying those yet to be born.
These unborn dolphins and pilot whales are never included by the Faroese in their national 'grind' statistics or mentioned in their news articles. They are certainly never given any consideration by the Faroese parliament or by Faroese or Danish law makers when they discuss the Grindadrap, and continue to declare it to be ethical and sustainable, albeit to their standards which are far below those used by most other European nations.
But shouldn’t we mention, count, and consider them? We believe we should.
On the 7th of May 2022 in the first hunt of the year, a pod of 63 pilot whales were killed. That’s the official number counted by the grind foreman in charge of the hunt - though actually a few days later the Faroese subtracted 2 from the statistics for a presently unknown reason.
That day, Sea Shepherd crew documented 10 pregnant mothers, and 10 dead foetuses dumped in bins and fish crates destined to be discarded. This is common practice and is regularly seen on the docksides and car parks where animals are cut open following a hunt.
These pilot whales never got the chance to grow into adults, to experience having young of their own, or spend years swimming free as some Faroese would have you believe.
Juvenile pilot whales, lives cut short by the grindadrap hunts [photos by Sea Shepherd]
Each female pilot whale gives birth to 4 to 5 young on average. The loss of those females and their unborn calves, and their never to be created calves for generations to come, has potentially significant consequences to the survival of the species given all the risks they face already, as well as the loss of genetic diversity and the strength which comes with it within the North Atlantic population of the future. This issue is just not talked about in the Faroe Islands.
Also not discussed is another hidden issue about the grindadrap.
It is correct that the vast majority of the animals from each hunt are indeed butchered, have their meat and blubber distributed and sometimes traded among the Faroese. That does not mean the grindadrap is sustainable or even responsibly carried out, even by the normal standards of a pro-hunting community. Leaving aside for now the fact that the meat and blubber is proven to be significantly contaminated and really should never be eaten for health reasons, or that the Faroese politicians should have acted years ago to ban the sale of tainted meat to unsuspecting tourists, indeed they should have banned the eating of pilot whale for the sake of their own people's health. What we have come to realise over 14 campaign years and has been confirmed by locals our crew have spoken to, is that possibly only 1/3rd of all the meat and blubber distributed is ever eaten at all.
Vast quantities of pilot whale meat is stored in home freezers for years unused (our crew have seen bags of pilot whale meat in freezers well over 4 years old as noted from the dates and locations of the hunt marked on many of the wrappings or bags). We believe that it is not uncommon in the Faroe Islands for older unused or unwanted meat to be thrown away simply to make space for meat portions from a new hunt. Shockingly, this means that maybe 2/3rds of all the pilot whales and dolphins which lose their lives in hunts - were killed for no reason at all.
With a yearly average of around 1156 small cetaceans killed each year in the Faroe Islands over the past 4 decades, about 770 may never end up feeding anyone. Even if a small amount of this meat is used to feed pets, or used in other ways such as in fishing / shark fishing bait as we suspect, the grindadrap remains a cruel, irresponsible and unnecessary activity which should have been stopped years ago as the Faroese became wealthy European citizens with a thriving fishing based economy, increasingly lucrative tourist industry, and have for years benefitted from international trade agreements with many countries as well as subsidies from Denmark.
UPDATE during the writing of this commentary:
Yesterday evening (24th May 2022) a pod was spotted in Víkarfjörður, Suðuroy at around 8pm. It appears the Faroese then managed, either by design (given the international and even Faroese outrage at the killing of 1428 dolphins on the 12th of September last year), or simply by accident, to separate some Atlantic white sided dolphins from the pilot whales, leaving a pod the chasing boats estimated to number 60 animals.
However, after the pod of pilot whales was driven onto the killing beach at Vágur at around 10:30pm and when the killing was done, the Faroese found they had killed 119 pilot whales (estimates of the pod size are often wildly inaccurate during the drive itself). Some of the whales had boat propellor cut marks on their bodies and there were again many pregnant females.
Due to the late time of the hunt on Suðuroy, our crew had no ferry available to travel to document the hunt itself. However, members of our crew have livestreamed and documented the butchering of the whales, and the dumping of unwanted remains over a cliff into the sea.
As of today (25th May 2022) a total of 182 pilot whales have already been killed in the Faroe Islands this year in the first two hunts:
7th May at Sandágerði (near Tórshavn) - 63 long finned pilot whales*
24th May at Vágur (on Suðuroy) - 119 long finned pilot whales*
*not counting unborn calves
The web pages for Operation Bloody Fjords are at: https://www.seashepherd.org.uk/campaigns/operation-bloody-fjords/
The Statistics of the Grindadrap - https://www.seashepherd.org.uk/campaigns/operation-bloody-fjords/statistics-of-the-grindadrap.html
The social media page for the campaign is at: https://www.facebook.com/OpBloodyFjords/
View photos and videos from Sea Shepherd UK’s campaigns including the last 5 years of Operation Bloody Fjords at: https://seashepherduk.myportfolio.com/
Sea Shepherd UK can be followed at: https://www.seashepherd.org.uk/ and at https://www.facebook.com/SeaShepherdUK