Whales in the Faroes – new opportunities

A statement by a coalition of organisations including EIA has been published in the Faroese media. It notes the shocking slaughter of about 1,100 whales and dolphins in the Faroe Islands in the last month. Whilst the statement also recognises the historical importance of the pilot whale to the Islanders, it calls on them to end the hunting and instead celebrate the whales by developing ecotourism including whale watching.

Whales in the Faroes – new opportunities

Online media showing pictures of the killing of some of the 1,100 whales and dolphins taken in the Faroe Islands over the last month has shocked and distressed people around the world and created fierce debates on social networks. To many outside observers, these images are in stark contrast to the islands’ reputation as a place of unspoilt natural beauty, and overshadow the country’s image as presented in tourism advertising. It is likely that the eye-catching branding campaign recently launched by Visit Faroe Islands would have more impact if Faroese whaling was not a reality.

In recent decades scientists around the world have made significant strides in understanding the behaviour of whales and dolphins and agree that they are typically highly social animals, with strong family bonds and their own ‘communities’. We now understand more about the complex ways in which they can suffer both pain and distress.  It is, in part, this knowledge that makes the scenes of slaughter on Faroese shores so difficult for the great majority of people overseas to understand and accept.  It is also these characteristics which elsewhere create a fascination with whales and make them the subject of a $2.1billion/year whale-watching industry worldwide, and in the most successful cases an individual animal can represent a value of hundreds of thousands of dollars to a coastal community.

We appreciate that pilot whaling has a strong significance in the Faroese community, based on long historical tradition, and we understand that some criticisms of whaling from overseas have been perceived as lacking respect or understanding for its role in Faroese culture. But cultures are, per definition, always evolving and last year a Gallup poll in the Faroe Islands revealed that 70% of people aged 15-39, and 51% of people in all age groups, believed that pilot whaling could end if its cultural and traditional significance could be preserved in other ways. This has happened in other countries, where a history of whaling is honoured with new community traditions, and captured in exhibits and displays.

It is clear that exploiting natural resources has always been central to the Faroese way of life, and history shows that people have skilfully adapted to new conditions and opportunities in the islands. It is our hope that the Faroese community will look to make use of whales in a new way, celebrating them as a positive focus for eco-tourism. This could both pay tribute to the importance of the pilot whales in the Faroese history and also benefit the islands’ tourism economy for the future.

Campaign Whale

Cetacean Society International

Dansk Dyreværn Aarhus

De Vilde Delfiner

Environmental Investigation Agency

Hans-Peter Roth

Humane Society International


Selskab til Bevarelse af Havpattedyr

Whale and Dolphin Conservation

World Society for the Protection of Animals