The story of a conservation group of more than 1,400 dolphins slaughtered over the weekend in the remote Faroe Islands sparked a huge outcry online. Hunting for marine mammals is a common and regulated practice on the islands, which are an autonomous region of Denmark, but a government official said a “big mistake” resulted in the deaths of many more animals than expected.
Sea Shepard Global, an international ocean conservation group, reported that on Sunday evening a supergroup of 1,428 Atlantic white-sided dolphins were killed off the Faroe Islands. Activists said the hunters used fast boats and jet skis to lead the dolphins into shallow water where they were killed.
Olavur Sjurdarberg, president of the Faroese Whalers Association, confirmed the killings to the BBC, saying that while the number of dolphins killed was excessive it was accidental.
“It was a big mistake,” he told the BBC. “When the group was found, they estimated there were only 200 dolphins.”
Sjurdarberg said hunters didn’t know the pod size until after they started killing, but “someone should have known better.”
He said the hunt had been authorized by Faroese authorities, contradicting Sea Shepard’s claims that the appropriate officials were “never informed and therefore never authorized the hunt.” The activist group also said many participants in the hunt did not have permits.
Faroe Islands media Kringvarp Føroya said 500 people and 50 boats had registered to participate in the hunt.
Obtaining a license to hunt marine mammals on the islands requires specific training on how hunters are supposed to kill their catches to comply with animal welfare legislation. Videos of the hunt posted by Sea Shepard show that many dolphins were still moving after being placed on shore alongside dead animals.
Dolphin and whale hunting has been common on the islands since the Viking Age. Whale hunts, which can be permitted at any time of the year, are intended to provide food and are “fully regulated by law and regulations,” the government said. Everything that is caught is distributed free of charge to the inhabitants of the island.
According to the government website, all hunted marine animals “should be killed as quickly and efficiently as possible.”
“Whales are killed on the shore and in the shallows of specially adapted and authorized bays, under the supervision of local elected officials and by people with a required permit,” the website said.
The Faroe Islands catch an average of 600 pilot whales per year, according to government data. From 2000 to 2020, no more than 773 white-sided dolphins were captured in a single year.
“Sea Shepard believes this to be the biggest dolphin or pilot whale hunt in Faroe Islands history,” the organization said, adding that it may have been “the biggest hunting of cetaceans never recorded in the world “.
CBS News has contacted the Faroe Islands government for further comment.
The hunt sparked a massive backlash on social media, with some calling the large-scale killing of dolphins “barbaric. ”
Animal welfare activist Dominic Dyer in a video message called the hunt for a “barbaric murder for fun disguised as culture”. He said a protest would be held in London in October to raise awareness about marine mammal hunting.
“It’s an absolute disgrace,” Dyer said. “And Denmark has to be held responsible for this… It’s disgusting. It shames the world.”