70 pilot whales were killed in the village of Tvøroyri in the Faroe Islands on New Years Day. It is extremely rare to see hunts this late into the year and this is the first time since WWII that a hunt took place on New Years Day.
The Faroe Islands are part of the Kingdom of Denmark, which is part of the European Union. Under EU law, pilot whales are a protected species.
As long-finned and short-finned pilot whales swim close to the shore during migration, fishermen surround the mammals in boats and dinghies, herding them towards the beach.
The entire pods of whales become stranded, are dragged up the beach and slaughtered on the sand or in the shallow water.
The hunt, known locally as the grindadrap or grind, draws large crowds. Many people enter the water to help bring the whales to the sand.
Because the islands are remote and quite barren, the Faroese have relied on the ocean, and specifically pilot whales, for food, blubber and other biomaterials for about 1,000 years. While certain elements of the whale hunts have changed with the invention of technology – most notably motorized boats and radios – the overall process hasn’t changed all that much over the millennium.
The slaughter is obviously inherently cruel and recent studies found that the demand for whale meat has declined significant in recent history and often the meat goes uneaten. The Faroese have a different perspective: the “culls” are a way for them to provide for themselves and continue a standing tradition.
Faroe Islanders are allowed to carry out the annual slaughter by law, which is partially devolved from Denmark’s government, although the legality of the practice has been questioned by activists.
Like shark meat, the meat of pilot whales is highly contaminated with mercury making it a s a health and safety issue.