Faroes to re-examine hunt rules as anger grows at mass dolphin killing

Faroe Islands updates

The Faroe Islands has bowed to international pressure and said it would re-examine rules around dolphin killing, after the slaughter of almost 1,500 of the mammals last weekend stunned even normally supportive locals.

The hunting of whales and dolphins known in the Faroe Islands as the Grindadrap, or “Grind”, has long been highly contentious abroad, with the animals driven to shore and killed with knives, turning the pristine waters blood red.

Last Sunday’s mass slaughter of 1,428 white-sided dolphins — more than were killed in total from 2007-20 — has become a watershed moment for the north Atlantic islands and its population of 53,000 people.

As well as the huge number involved, the dolphins were left for hours before being killed, unleashing unprecedented criticism from within the Faroe Islands as well as deep concern among politicians and business about the impact it could have on the main industries of salmon exports and tourism.

“We take this matter very seriously,” Prime Minister Bardur a Steig Nielsen said on Thursday. “Although these hunts are considered sustainable, we will be looking closely at the dolphin hunts, and what part they should play in Faroese society. The government has decided to start an evaluation of the regulations on the catching of Atlantic white-sided dolphins.”

Officials said the move was in part motivated by trying to protect the pilot whale hunts, which have a longer history than the dolphin version and typically involve 40-200 creatures at a time. The hunts only take place when the animals are spotted close to shore, with 10 involving whales so far this year and only Sunday’s one of dolphins.

“I’m shocked. This destroys the work we’ve done to protect the grind hunts,” Hans Jacob Hermansen, a former head of the Faroese Association for Grind Hunts, told local television.

The association’s current head, Olavur Sjudarberg, told local media that the slaughter could damage the Faroe Islands’ reputation abroad and mean the death knell for all hunts in the long run.

A TV debate between two politicians this week on the mass killing was described as “unusually aggressive by Faroese standards” by one official. An opinion poll by the same station suggested a majority of Faroese people were against the dolphin hunts — which started in 1872 — while about four-fifths continue to support the pilot whale killings.

Sea Shepherd, a marine conservation campaign group that has long called for an end to the hunts, called Sunday’s dolphin slaughter “so brutal and badly mishandled that it is no surprise the hunt is being criticised in the Faroese media and even by many outspoken pro-whalers and politicians”.

The Faroese government noted that the pilot whale hunt was “an ancient and integral part of Faroese food culture” that provided one of the few local sources of meat that does not have to be imported. It also stressed that the hunts were sustainable as pilot whales are abundant in the north-east Atlantic and that changes in the regulations mean the creatures are normally killed within seconds.

The fishing industry accounts for almost all exports and a fifth of the Faroese economy while tourism has been of growing importance as foreign visitors increasingly come to see the lush, green archipelago.

But business interests in the Faroes, an autonomous nation that is part of the kingdom of Denmark, are increasingly concerned about the negative headlines from the dolphin massacre and a number of celebrities such as comedian Ricky Gervais who have criticised the hunts.

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