"Mistake" Leads to Death of 1,500 Dolphins in Faroe Islands Hunt

Faroe Islands - image source iStock
Image courtesy iStock

Published Sep 15, 2021 9:31 PM by The Maritime Executive

An outcry has emerged following the massacre of nearly 1,500 dolphins during the annual Faroe Islands "Grind hunt" on Sunday. The Atlantic white-sided dolphins were herded into shallow waters at Skalabotnur beach in Eysturoy, where locals manually harvested the mammals using knives.

The Grind hunt, commonly referred in Faroese as Grindadrap, is a communal tradition that has been practiced for hundreds of years on the remote Faroe Islands, but this year's event has been condemned by animal rights activists as “cruel and unnecessary."

The scale of this year’s killing was so shocking that even many Faroese, who take pride in the festival as their cultural heritage, expressed dissatisfaction. The local press, which has historically shunned publishing stories on the event, quoted a former chairman of the whaling association who said that the excessive killing "destroys all the work we have done to preserve the Grind.”

Heri Peterson, current chairperson of the Grind association, also complained that far too many dolphins had been herded into the bay over too long a distance. He said that too few people were waiting on the beach to kill them, prolonging their agony.

“I’m appalled at what happened. The dolphins lay on the beach writhing for far too long before they were killed,” Peterson told the local news site In.fo.

"It was a big mistake," said the chairman of the Faroese Whalers Association, Olavur Sjurdarberg, who was not a participant in this year's event. In an interview, he told the BBC that "when the pod was found, they estimated it to be only 200 dolphins . . . Somebody should have known better."

Sea Shepherd believes this to be the largest single hunt of dolphins or pilot whales in Faroese history. The next largest - a harvest of some 1200 pilot whales - was recorded back in 1940. 

“Considering the times we are in, with the global pandemic and the world coming to a halt, it’s absolutely appalling to see an attack on nature of this scale in the Faroe Islands. If we have learned anything from this pandemic is that we have to live in harmony with nature instead of wiping it out,” said Captain Alex Cornelissen, Sea Shepherd Global CEO.

An average of about 600 pilot whales are caught during the Grind hunt every year, according to the BBC. White-sided dolphins are usually caught in lower numbers: 35 were taken in 2020 and 10 in 2019.

The whale and dolphin hunt is legal in Faroe Islands, but laws do exist to regulate it, including mandates that each district has a Grind foreman who authorizes and oversees the hunt. Participants are also required to have a license for whaling, since special training is required in how to kill the pilot whales and dolphins in the shortest time possible.