7 min read

People Are Killing Whole Families Of Whales On These Islands

The world knows about it — but it just keeps happening 💔

The pilot whales desperately tried to escape the hunters — but no matter how hard they tried, they couldn’t get away.

On Tuesday, hunters living in the town of Sandavágur in the Faroe Islands, a remote archipelago north of Denmark, drove 35 boats into the sea to where a pod of 75 pilot whales were swimming. Then the hunters revved their engines to create a wall of sound that would trap the pilot whales, and used their boats to physically block them — but the whales still put up a good fight.

Boats driving pilot whales into shore
Boats driving pilot whales into shore last Tuesday | Sea Shepherd UK

“They were chasing and driving that pod for over seven hours,” Rob Read, director for Sea Shepherd UK, a group that’s been documenting the hunts for several years, told The Dodo. “So that’s seven hours for that pod being harassed and stressed.”

The hunters eventually won — they drove the pilot whale family into shallow water, and killed every single one of them using knives and spinal lances (long metal rods with sharp points), which they pushed into the whales’ flesh behind their blowholes. The sea turned red with the whales’ blood.

Warning: graphic photos below

Hunters killing pilot whales
Faroese hunters killing the 75 pilot whales while kids watch | Sea Shepherd UK

“These animals really suffer,” Read said. “These animals aren’t being killed instantaneously like the Faroese often claim. In 2016 ... one of the pilot whales took nearly 10 minutes to die.”

Sadly, these killings are commonplace in the Faroe Islands, which operates as an independent country within the kingdom of Denmark. Each year, starting around May, Faroese people kill hundreds — or even thousands — of whales and dolphins in what’s called “grindadráp,” which roughly translates to “killing of the whales” in English.

Dead pilot whales on a beach in the Faroe Islands
Sea Shepherd UK

But it’s not just the hunters who participate in each grindadráp (or grind) — many people on the islands get involved.

“It’s like a festive feeling amongst the locals,” Rosie Kunneke, a former campaign leader for Sea Shepherd, told The Dodo last year. “Old ladies are getting their sun chairs ready on the beach to watch this whole thing. People are cheering, children are singing, women are clapping. It’s like the circus has come to town.”

Dead pilot whales attached to boat
Sea Shepherd UK

Once the whales or dolphins are killed, the animals’ bodies are dragged onto shore and cut up so the meat can be distributed amongst the locals. Whatever’s leftover is usually sold to local restaurants or sent to a fish processing plant so the meat can be sold at supermarkets, Read explained. However, this meat can be a health hazard since it’s dangerously high in mercury.

“They know it’s contaminated, yet the Faroese government are not only knowingly allowing their people to continue hunting pilot whales and dolphins and eating it, but then knowingly allowing — without any food testing — pilot whales to be sold in supermarkets, where anyone can buy them — Faroese or tourists,” Read said.

Faroese people gathering on the beach after a grind last week | Sea Shepherd UK

Last year’s grinds were particularly brutal — Faroese hunters killed 1,691 dolphins and pilot whales in 24 grindadráp hunts. This year, there have been 10 grinds so far that have taken the lives of 606 animals, including 561 pilot whales and 46 Atlantic white-sided dolphins. Read explained that the number of whales or dolphins killed each year simply relies on how many pass by the islands.

“There are no quotas,” Read said. “If 3,000 whales swam past the Faroe Islands one year, then 3,000 would be killed if the weather was good enough to take out boats. They literally never stop the hunts from happening unless there are just a handful of [whale and dolphin] individuals, or the weather is too bad to take the boats out. They take every opportunity given to them.”

Dead whale hanging above a boat
Sea Shepherd UK

While animal welfare advocates are distressed that the hunts continue each year, Read believes that change is slowly happening, and he’s hopeful that the hunts will eventually end — especially as the public becomes increasingly aware of what’s happening in the Faroe Islands.

“We’re getting more allies over in the Faroe Islands, and people are becoming a bit less scared about speaking out against it,” Read said. “Hopefully, we’ll be slowly grinding down the grind. We’re slowly applying pressure, and hopefully they’re going to realize that between the health issues and everything else, maybe it’s about time that they realized they should severely restrict if not shut down the grinds entirely.”

To help save whales and dolphins in the Faroe Islands, you can make a donation to Sea Shepherd UK.
Our Newsletter
Want more animals?
Get a daily dose of uplifting animal stories to your email inbox each morning.
By Signing Up, I Agree to the Terms and Privacy Policy.