Whaling in the Faroes

It’s a pleasure to receive well-argued representations from constituents on genuine issues. Here is one such message I received recently from Millie Hall of East Yorkshire, on the subject of whaling by Faroese people.

I expect you are aware of the continued whaling in the Faroe Islands as pictures hit the media recently when around 250 whales were slaughtered on two beaches in one day. This was part of a whale hunt known as the grindadrap (literal translation “murder of whales”) or grind. The killing is not restricted to pilot whales, it also includes white sided dolphins, orcas and bottle nose dolphins.

The Faroese insist that this meat is not sold, but every part of the whale is used and is shared amongst their community as a valuable source of meat for a region that has very little in terms of natural resources. The whole of that statement is a lie for four reasons:

  1. Whale meat from the grinds is sold in supermarkets and restaurants in the Faroe Islands, so it is bringing in money for some of the people involved which makes it a commercial enterprise.
  2. Every part of the whale killed is not used, not even every whale killed is used. The hunters have been documented discarding whole whale carcasses into the sea that they did not have time to process before dusk.
  3. It is not a valuable source of meat, it is very dangerous due to the amount of toxins (high levels of mercury and PCBs) even Faroese doctors confirm it contains. The poisonous levels would not be legal in any other food approved for human consumption and the fact that children are being given this meat to eat by parents who should know better means that they are being poisoned. There is a high incident of disease on the island related to these pollutants.
  4. The Faroe Islands have a thriving fishing industry including farmed salmon. They also have a large amount of sheep. They trade these commodities for all the benefits of a materialisic society and with this and their subsidies they enjoy one of the highest standards of living in the world.

The resulting argument is that the Faroese kill whales because they want to kill whales.

Denmark has sent naval vessels to support the grind and prevent protesters from getting close to the whales in an attempt to protect them. Before 2014 Denmark remained completely separate from the hunt, but by sending their ships, they are clearly showing their support for this slaughter. These included a frigate, helicopters, small boats and hundreds of sailors at a huge cost to the Danish and European taxpayers.

Although the Faroe Islands are a self-governing nation, they are still within the Kingdom of Denmark. The Faroe Islands are not part of the EU, but Denmark is. The European Union bans commercial whale hunting and whale imports by its members. I suggest that by supporting the whale hunting in the Faroe Islands by sending their navy, Denmark has participated in this commercial whale hunting, and so broken the laws of the European Union. The Faroese claim independence, so say the EU laws do not apply to them, but they are happy to accept EU subsidies from Denmark and support from Danish police and Danish navy, which suggests a lack of independence from an EU nation. How can they have it both ways?

Current research suggests that whales and dolphins have language that they use to communicate. They even seem to have names for one another. Current research also suggests that whales and dolphins have a huge capacity for emotion, potentially higher than humans.

The grind identifies a pod of whales in a suitable area, they then go out in motor boats, surround the pod, herd them until they are exhausted and force them onto a beach where they are killed. The Faroese claim that the slaughter is humane and happens within seconds. Video footage proves that the whales die a torturous, agonising death that takes no less than five minutes and up to an hour. Pods of whales are made up of mothers and calves on the whole, they are friends and families who have usually spent all of their lives together. I appreciate it is difficult, but just for a moment, please think about this. A group of family and close friends are going about their business, doing no harm to anyone, when suddenly they are surrounded by noisy, smelly, frightening boats. They try to flee but are chased until they are exhaused. The mothers are worried about their babies, but can do nothing to protect them. They are forced into a bay already turning red by the blood from the deaths of their friends who were in front of them. Once in shallow water they have a hook in their blowhole which is used to drag them on to the beach (equivalent to a hook up a human nose being used to pull their whole body weight) where they are stabbed to death. The fear, pain, confusion and panic they must feel is incomprehensible. If this were being done to humans the outcry would be unbelievable, why is it acceptable that wild free animals who pose no threat to us can be treated this way?

I am asking that you raise this issue within the European parliament, and ensure that Denmark is held accountable for supporting an illegal action. In 2013 the Faroese were only able to kill 33 whales in three months, thanks to the actions of protesters. In 2012 without the protesters, in the same time period, more than 1300 whales and dolphins were killed in the grind. This year, thanks to the intervention of the Danes, 250 pilot whales were killed in one day. I am asking that you try to ensure that Denmark cannot support the whale slaughter in the future, even if they will not act directly to prevent this happening in the Kingdom of Denmark. If the Danish navy and police are not present, it gives protesters the opportunity to save the whales once again.

Ms Hall is quite right that the Faroes are not part of the EU, and that rules we agreed at EU level to protect whales do not apply there. Nonetheless, we can try to put pressure on Denmark, at the very least to stop sending their navy to support whale hunts. Unfortunately, Denmark now has a Conservative-Liberal coalition government, which makes it less likely to be receptive to representations from other parts of the political spectrum.

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