Activists call for ban on 1,000-year-old whale slaughter tradition as 'insane blood sport' turns seas red
The islands see around 800 long-finned pilot whales killed every year as they often swim in close proximity to the shores
Animal rights activists have called for a ban of the Faroe Islands' annual whale hunt, which they termed as an "insane blood sport" and which sees the waters turn a dark red as hundreds of the mammals are slaughtered.
The Grindadràp, which means slaughter in Faroese, has been practiced in the islands for more than a 1,000 years, as per some estimates, and involves the killing of schools of long-finned pilot whales that often swim in proximity to the islands' shores.
The hunt involves the whales being surrounded by boats, who then drive them into a bay or to the bottom of a fjord, where they are killed by people lying in wait with knives. After the slaughter, the waters turn red, with pictures of the same shared around the world in recent times as calls to ban the "cruel" and "unnecessary" practice have increased in recent years.
It initially appeared as if the Grindadràp would not go ahead this year because of the coronavirus pandemic, but AFP reported that the hunt began this week with the killing of around 300 of the mammals.
Concern had been raised about fisherman proximity after the territory, located in the North Atlantic between Norway and Iceland and comprising of 18 islands, had logged 188 cases of Covid-19 despite having a population of just 55,000. However, on July 7, Fisheries Minister Jacob Vestergaard gave his approval for the hunt on the condition that people avoid large gatherings.
NGO Sea Shepherd, a non-profit marine conversation organization based in Washington state, said 250 long-finned pilot whales and some Atlantic white-sided dolphins were killed on Wednesday, July 15, off Hvalba, a village on the southernmost island of Suduroy.
"252 long-finned pilot whales and 35 Atlantic white-sided dolphins were killed in Hvalba last night after the huge pod was found off Sandvik," they said in a statement. "This is the first organized Grindadràp hunt of 2020 with the meat from the hunt distributed first to the approximately 70 hunt participants from the boats and those killing on the beach - and then the remainder to villages on Suðuroy with all recipients then free to sell their share of the meat if they so wish."
Sea Shepherd successfully managed to disrupt the hunt in 2014 but has since been banned from Faroese waters after legislation was passed to authorize Danish military vessels to stop them with force.
ORCA, another non-profit environmental conservation organization dedicated to protecting marine life, similarly condemned the practice and called it an "insane blood sport."
"To the beautiful family of pilot whales that were brutally murdered in the Danish #FaroeIslands, we are so deeply sorry... We will keep fighting to end this insane blood sport. RIP beautiful family..." they tweeted. "Please Boycott the Faroe Islands! #GrindStop #Denmark #StopKillingWhales"
The Faroese have repeatedly defended the hunt by stating that it is sustainable since they catch just 800 whales out of the 100,000 that call the islands their home. But concerns have been raised about how these whales are killed.
Alastair Ward, a Cambridge University student who photographed the event in 2018, told the BBC that the hunt was not carried out humanely. "The squealing from the whales was horrible. They were putting hooks on ropes in their blowholes to pull them in and then hacking at them with knives," he said. "They didn't die in a very humane way."