As 42 pilot whales die, new report debunks claims of whale and dolphin hunters in Faroe Islands

In the wake of the latest Faroe Islands drive hunt on Friday that saw the killing of 42 more pilot whales, a new report today (25 September) by EIA UK and its partners challenge claims that annual Faroese drive hunts are humane, sustainable and an integral part of local culture.

This latest hunt brings the total of whales and dolphins killed in the islands to more than 900 – far higher than the usual average of some 685 whales.

The report, Unravelling the Truth: Whale killing in the Faroe Islands, presents evidence-based arguments to take a critical look at the main justifications for the on-going hunting of long-finned pilot whales and other small cetaceans in the Faroe Islands (a small self-governing Danish territory located between Scotland and Iceland in the North Atlantic).

The centuries-old hunt, known as the grindadráp, is widely publicised and largely condemned by the international community.

In the period 2010-20, Faroese whalers have killed an average of 685 pilot whales and 114 dolphins each year, with the meat being distributed among the islands’ inhabitants and sometimes sold in grocery stores and restaurants.

Prior to this latest hunt, 854 pilot whales had already been killed as of August 2023. More than 1,400 Atlantic white-sided dolphins were killed in a single day in September 2021, sparking widespread public outcry and sharp criticism from the European Union.

When a pod of whales or school of dolphins is spotted, hunters drive them to the shore and into designated killing bays using a line of boats. Once the animals are in shallow water, they are secured using a round-ended hook driven into their blowholes — the whales’ breathing passage — and pulled to land. There, every single whale or dolphin is killed with a knife or sharp spinal lance pushed into the neck behind the blowhole. This may paralyse the animal, but it does not necessarily mean that the animal is immediately dead, unconscious or insensible to pain.

The report’s key findings include:

  • while many Faroese people may feel traditionally entitled to hunt and eat pilot whales, the report shows that a majority do not participate in whaling or consume cetacean products from the hunt
  • there is also substantial domestic opposition to the hunting of the smaller dolphin species for meat. An April 2022 Gallup poll, for instance, found that 69 per cent of the public opposed dolphin hunting, with just seven per cent expressing strong support
  • although proponents of pilot whale hunting argue that the capture and killing process is humane, a recent review of Faroese hunting techniques published in Frontiers in Veterinary Science concluded that they are ethically and morally unacceptable, given our understanding of the sentient nature of these animals
  • claims that the drive hunts are sustainable grossly oversimplify a complex issue and fail to account for the slow reproduction rate of pilot whales and a hunting approach that destroys entire social units. Moreover, these hunts generate a substantial amount of waste, much of which may be dumped back into the sea.

“More than 20,000 pilot whales, Atlantic white-sided dolphins and other cetaceans have been slaughtered in the Faroe Islands since 2000,” said EIA UK Senior Ocean Campaigner Sarah Dolman.

“This is an outdated, cruel and wasteful practice that does not consider the welfare of the individuals or the social complexities of these cetacean societies.”

The report was jointly produced by Animal Welfare Institute, EIA UK, Humane Society International, Oceanic Preservation Society, Ocean Care, Orca and Pro Wildlife.