The Faroe Islands, located about halfway between Scotland and Iceland, have a long whaling history dating back to the mid-1500’s. In the time period between “1584 to 2007 a total of 256.912 pilot whales have been taken.” (1) The hunt or “grind” of pilot whales and other marine mammals like bottle nosed whales, bottle nosed dolphins and harbor porpoise is very much thriving in the coastal region of the Faroe Islands despite concerns for the conservation of a stable breeding population, animal welfare and human health problems from the consumption of toxic whale meet and blubber.
This article proceeds to analyze under the IDEAL model 1. A summary of the problems associated with the modern-day whale hunt in the Faroe Islands, and its relevance to an Activist organized response. 2. A brief account of previous Activist actions in Faroe Islands, and its results. 3. A proposal for an educational plan in Denmark to gather public support for a campaign to end whaling in the Faroe Islands. 4. An action plan to gather media attention and boost public awareness. 5. A description of policy recommendations to be taken to the Danish government and the European Commission demanding binding legislation ending the hunt of marine mammals in the Faroe Islands and all Danish waters.
Section 1 (I): Summary of problems and relevance to Activist.
Questions have been raised about the sustainable killing of the pilot whales in the Atlantic Ocean. Although documentation of the grinds in the Faroe Islands is one of the most extensive in animal exploitation history, little is known about the total population of the mammals targeted by the yearly kills. The most recent estimates of the pilot whale’s population are now over a decade old and quote survey numbers of “78,000 animals (pilot whales) in the north-eastern Atlantic Ocean.” (C.V. = 0.30; Buckland, Bloch, Cattanach, Gunnlaugs- son, Hoydal, Lens & Sigurjónsson 1993).
However, these now outdated population counts do not account for the large variability of catch size that has been identified by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs UTTANRÍKISRÁÐIÐ as of August 2011. The ministry report states:
“The annual long-term average catch of pilot whales in the Faroe Islands is around 800 whales, with large fluctuations in catches from year to year. In the 20-year period from 1991 to 2010, annual catches have ranged from zero (in 2008) to 1,572 (in 1992). So far in 2011 (to 25 July) there have been 3 whale drives, with a total catch of 303 pilot whales.” (1)
From this data, an argument on behalf of Activist to stop whaling in the Faroe Islands based on sustainable yields should not be the primary strategy for attempting to curtail whaling in the area. While population-based arguments are empirically testable, as of now Activist could only make statements about the inconclusive nature of the studies and need for further research. Realistically those statements alone will not be enough to influence international or Danish policy on a permanent time frame, however they are still an important component.
Animal welfare and hunting methods:
A more effective argument can be made to gain public and political support based on an emotional plea. The modern grind of pilot whales is not as glamorous as it once historically was. Motorboats and modern techniques are being used to not only create a higher death toll but to efficiently and systematically kill whales.
A group of 13 international NGOs including The Animal Welfare Institute, Campaign Whale, and the Environmental Investigation Agency drafted a letter to the Faroese people calling for an end to the whale hunts and described the methods being used as “Appalling…cruelty that is unacceptable in a highly modern society.” (2) After reading the letter’s description of the methods used to kill the whales it’s not hard to agree. The letter states:
“In the hunts, pods of whales, sometimes numbering hundreds of individuals, are driven into a bay by boats. The hunters use noise to scare the animals towards the shallow waters. The stress induced by this process is a welfare issue in itself. An attempt is made to beach as many whales as possible on the shore. Those not beached will flounder in the shallows and deeper water. The whales are secured for the slaughter either by striking a sharp steel hook into the body of the whale or by placing a round-ended hook into the blowhole. Whales in the water are hauled to the shore by ropes attached to the hooks. A traditional whaling knife is used to cut behind the blowhole to sever vital arteries, which if done accurately induces loss of consciousness and death. However the time to death of the whale from first wounding is frequently prolonged by the position of the whales and the varying levels of expertise of the slaughter men and many whales will suffer prolonged time to death.” (3)
Images have already been distributed throughout the media and Internet documenting the vicious attack on the animals. These images, some depicting the bays turned blood red by the wounds inflicted by slaughtermen on the whales are likely to be on Activist’s tools to help raise awareness and elicit a response from the Danish government.
Meat consumption and toxicity:
Proponents of the whale grinds often make the argument that the whale meat and blubber being collected from the whales is being distributed to the local population and is a key element of providing food from a local resource. This argument is an interesting and untruthful twist on the arguments and tenets of sustainable food production. It is clear from scientific surveys of the yields of the grinds that the amount of food produced from the grinds far exceeds the needs of the islands population. Analysis of the toxicity of the whale meet also shows that high amounts of mercury and heavy metals make the whale meet dangerous to eat especially at the current level of yield. Whale meat is going to waste, making it apparent that the kill is no longer about feeding the populace, but has ultimately become a blood sport.
According to the NGO report prepared for Ocean Care and Pro Wildlife, in autumn 2008, the health authorities of the Faroe Islands recommended to their regional government that “From a human health perspective … pilot whale meat is no longer used for human consumption…” as it exceeds international limits for dietary intakes, such as from the EU and the USA (Weihe & Joensen 2008). (3)
The paper continues to state, “An increasing number of human diseases has been linked to this contamination, including Parkin- son’s disease (Wermuth et al. 2008, 2000; Koldkjaer et al. 2003), suppression of the immune systems (INAC 2003a), and increased respiratory infections in children (Van Oostdam et al. 2005).”(3)
The bottom line is that the argument that whaling activities in the Faroe Islands provide a food source to its population is historically outdated and creates a health risk.
Section 2 (D): Past action and results:
Whaling in the Faroe Islands has long been controversial. Several attempts have been made to impede the process of the grinds but the most publicized was the 1986 intervention by Sea Shepard. A press summary describes the events as follows:
“1986: Sea Shepherd attempts to stop Faroe Islands pilot whale harvest. Using rifles, Sea Shepherd activists shoot at Faroe Islands police in an attempt to sink their rubber dinghies. The vessel “Sea Shepherd” was ordered to leave Faroese territorial waters. The police report of 7 October 1986 states: “One of the rubber dinghies was attacked directly by a “Speed Line” line rifle. The attack … endangered the lives of the police crew members … and signal flares containing phosphorous was thrown at the police. At a later stage the Sea Shepherd used “toads” (rotating iron spikes, pointed and sharp at both ends) against the rubber dinghies … petrol was poured over the side of the ship and signal flares were thrown from the “Sea Shepherd” in an attempt to set the petrol on fire.” (4)
While Sea Shepherd’s actions drew attention to whaling in the Faroe Islands they did little to change long-term behavior. The course of action chosen by Sea Shepard was not only highly illegal and dangerous but there is little chance that any politician would associate with such radical activities. Because of this it is recommended that Activist instead seek political change through political lobby and public support.
Section 3 (E): Education and gathering public support:
The first part of the campaign will be comprised of a team of volunteers and employees assigned to share information with the public in Copenhagen by canvasing the downtown area with information and photos of the whale kills in the Faroe Islands. Some information on the awareness of the public about whaling issues in the Faroe Islands has been conducted in the past. An online poll concludes,
“61% have previously heard or read about the pilot whaling in Faroe Islands, but only 19% knew about the meat being polluted. 56% do think that the taking of pilot whales causes pain to the whales and 46% believe that this whaling should be stopped. 54% believe that the pilot whaling damages the international reputation of the Faroe Islands. 55% believe the recommendation from the Faroe Islands State Doctor to stop using pilot whale products for human consumption should be followed.” (3)
The goal of a public education program through canvasing in the downtown area of Copenhagen would be to increase the percentage of people opposed to whaling in the Faroe Islands. Once a new survey is conducted it can be presented to the appropriate political entities in order to petition for legislated reform.
Section 4 (A): Action plan:
The next stage of this action plan is to develop and implement an intervention or strategy to draw media attention to Activist’s goal of ending whaling in the Faroe Islands. As shown by the non-permanent nature of some attempts to physically stop or impede the whaling activities of the pilot whales during a grind (Sea Shepherd) a new approach is needed that does not endanger the lives of volunteers or whalers, regardless of their position on the issue.
In addition to canvasing of the downtown Copenhagen area Activist should consider hijacking existing advertisement campaigns directed at attracting tourism to the Faroe Islands— a model of what at first glance would appear to be a tourism campaign for the Faroe Islands, but upon closer inspection would be a protest banner by Activist against whaling in the area.
Shame strategy targets not only the activities of whaling in the Faroe Islands, but also the argument that violence against animals is cultural significant to the community
The goal is to make the public think that this is a real tourism campaign funded by the Faroe Islands based on an outdated and brutal practice.
Section 5 (L): Policy recommendations:
The best-case scenario would be to propose and pass EU-wide policy banning the killing of pilot whales. However, if these goals cannot be met due to resistance to sweeping reform there are still options available for Activist lobbyists to capitalize on in order to stop or hinder the exploitation of marine mammals.
According to the Birgith Sloth consultant report “Under a special exemption clause, import of pilot whale meat and blubber is allowed to Denmark for non-commercial purposes. Private people can import for their own consumption.”(3) Motions need to be made to stop the legal import of whale meat to mainland Denmark, thereby eliminating some the economic intensive for a consumer market. The legislation the report refers to is the EU Commission Regulation (EF) no. 206/2009 of 5th March 2009. Activist needs to lobby with sympathetic politicians within the European Commission to amend the legislation to ban the import of whale meat throughout the European Union.
The argument for whaling is often made by using incomplete or outdated data to support claims that whaling is within sustainable boundaries. Activist should act to change the burden of responsibility to the whaling community to prove empirically that their activities are not damaging whale stock. Historically environmentally abusive organizations have been allowed to practice their crimes on a basis of “if you can’t prove it’s a problem then, it’s not a problem.” The precautionary principle needs to be utilized in order to protect our ocean’s marine mammals. From a political perspective such a change in policy would not stop whaling in the Faroe Islands but it would slow the whaling process by requiring the approval for grinds.
Both legislation changes on EF no. 206/2009 and the proposal for new legislation utilizing the precautionary principle, requiring proof of sustainable practices, would greatly reduce the total catch of pilot whales in the Faroe Islands as well as limit the ability for new whaling within European and Danish waters.
(1) WHALING IN THE FAROE ISLANDS – IN BRIEF, UTTANRÍKISRÁÐIÐ MINISTRY OF FOREIGN AFFAIRS, August 2011.
(2) Statement on Pilot Whales Killed in the Faroe Islands, “Final Statement on Pilot Whales Killed in the Faroe Islands”, 30 July, 2010.