The Faroe Islands are used to shocking the whole world with their “grind”, a knife killing of cetaceans cornered at the bottom of a bay. But a huge fishing of more than 1,400 dolphins, with overwhelmed fishermen, wavers this ancestral tradition.
For the first time, the local government of the Danish Autonomous Archipelago, lost in the middle of the North Sea, has indicated that it will reassess – not the ban on the practice – but the fishing of white-sided dolphins.
Last Sunday, “we were 500 people on the beach. I had never seen anything like it before. It’s the biggest catch in the Faroe Islands, ”one of the hunter-fishermen, Jens Mortan Rasmussen, told AFP. “This time the reviews are a little different,” he admits. “Fish exporters are getting a lot of angry phone calls from their customers and the salmon industry has rallied against dolphin hunting. It’s a first “.
The “grind” consists, by encircling them with boats, to corner on the shore a school of cetaceans, generally a variety of pilot whales called pilot whales, more rarely dolphins. They then fall into the hands of fishermen who have remained ashore, who enter the water up to the waist and kill them with knives.
If this traditional fishing practiced in summer often reaches tens or even hundreds of catches – the total turns around 600 each year – the scale of this last Sunday surprised, including in the archipelago of 50,000 souls, where the population largely supports the practice.
In the deep fjord of Skala, a small village of 750 inhabitants at the foot of the cliffs of Esturoy, the immense size of the bank slowed down the killing process which took “much longer than a normal grind”, after Jens Mortan Rasmussen.
“When the dolphins get to the beach, it is very difficult to send them back to the sea, they tend to always come back to strand towards the beach,” he explained.
Under the gaze of children – accustomed to the scene – the blood-red waters delivered 1,428 white-sided dolphins, a species that can measure up to just under three meters. The photos of the dolphins lined up on the shore have generated much criticism, prompting the government to announce an assessment of the regulation of the hunting of this species.
“Attack on nature”
“Although these hunts are considered to be sustainable, we will take a close look at dolphin hunts and the role they should play in Faroese society,” Prime Minister Bárdur told Steig Nielsen.
For Vincent Kelner, author of a documentary on the “grind”, “if they decided to stop killing these dolphins, that would be a very big step in the reflection on this practice”.
For the inhabitants of the Faroe Islands, this traditional hunt is like an open-air slaughterhouse, hardly different from all the animals killed by the millions in the world, underlines the director of “Taste of the Whale”, presented next month.
“Last Sunday, they were overwhelmed and they took a long time to kill the dolphins. It touches them in their pride because it questions the professionalism they wanted to put in place, ”underlines the French director.
The Faroese often recall the abundance of cetaceans in their waters (more than 100,000, or two per inhabitant) and the historical significance of this practice: without this meat from the sea, their people would have disappeared.
Today, the subsistence argument is no longer on the agenda, even if the product of the hunts is still exclusively intended for consumption.
For the environmental NGO Sea Sheperd, mobilized for decades against the hunting of cetaceans, it is time to put an end to this “appalling attack on nature”, especially since the meat hunted contains dangerous levels of mercury.
According to the organization, many participants also did not have the necessary permit, precisely put in place by the authorities to regulate the practice, and the local “grind” manager would not have given the authorization.
According to Faroese journalist Hallur av Rana, although a large majority defends the “grind”, 53% of his compatriots are opposed to dolphin hunting.
The Faroes had already given up whaling in 1986.