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1,428 white-sided dolphins driven to their death

1,428 white-sided dolphins driven to their death
ORCA stock image - Atlantic white-sided dolphin - credit Brian Clasper

On Sunday 12th September 1,428 Atlantic white-sided dolphins were driven to their death by Faroese whale hunters in what is thought to be the largest hunt in the island's history.

Whale and dolphin hunting in the Faroes has been practised for hundreds of years since around the time of the first Norsemen settled on the island in the 9th Century. During the Grindadráp, toothed cetaceans are surrounded by boats and driven into a bay or the bottom of a fjord and beached. They are then brutally slaughtered. On average around 600 pilot whales are caught and killed every year with white-sided dolphins caught in lower numbers. Supporters of the Grindadráp claim “whaling is a sustainable way of gathering food from nature and is part of their cultural identity”.

On Sunday 12th September 2021, a pod of Atlantic white-sided dolphins were driven into the largest fjord on Skalabotnur beach in Eystuory and more than 1,400 were butchered. The carcases were then put onshore and distributed to locals for consumption. Footage from the Grindadráp shows hundreds of people, including young children, watching from the beach and paddling between the dolphins as they thrashed around for hours in shallow waters which were turned red with blood as they were hacked to death. The hunt was condemned by international conservation groups and the scale of the killing, which is thought to be the largest ever hunt undertaken worldwide, shocked many locals and gained criticism from groups involved in the practice.

According to Bjarni Mikkelsen, a marine biologist from the Faroe Islands, this is the largest number of dolphins ever killed on one day on the Faroe Islands. The next largest catches were 1,200 in 1940, 900 in 1879, 856 in 1873, and 854 in 1938.

In an interview with the BBC, the chairman of the Faroese Whalers Association, Olavur Sjurdarberg, who did not participate in the hunt, agreed the killing was excessive saying "It was a big mistake. When the pod was found, they estimated it to be only 200 dolphins. Only when the killing process started did they find out the true size of the pod. Somebody should have known better" he said. "Most people are in shock about what happened." However, according to Mr Sjurdarberg, the catch was approved by the local authorities and no laws were broken.

The hunts in the Faroe Islands are legal but not popular. They are regulated and hunters must have an official training certificate that qualifies them to kill the animals. They are non-commercial and are organised on a community level, often just when someone spots a pod of dolphins.

The large number of dolphins killed on Sunday was such, that it even caused bewilderment and shock across the Faroese. Comments from the Facebook page of the local broadcaster Kringvarp Føroya included “I get nauseous seeing this kind of thing,” with another commenting “I’m embarrassed to be Faroese.” And even the defenders of traditional whaling condemned the massacre as “cruel and unnecessary”. One local told the Danish newspaper Ekstra Bladet, that locals would not consume the amount of dolphin meat from the Grindadráp and commented that it would be likely thrown in the bin or the dolphins would be put into a hole in the ground.

Sally Hamilton, ORCA Director said:

"This cruel and barbaric practice has absolutely no place in modern society and the suffering of well over one thousand dolphins is simply unacceptable. The scale of this slaughter has inspired even the Faroese Whaler Association to admit it was a “big mistake” – surely now is the time to end this horrendous hunt forever."