I have been asked to comment on this article written in 2009 by Elin Brimheim Heinesen. In this article Elin, a Faeroes native, writes in defense of the Grind, the slaughter of the pilot whales in the Faeroe Islands.
I have inserted my comments where relevant
Some people outside the Faroes think that Faroese people are senseless primitive murderous inbred drunken brutal beasts who once a year kill thousands of intelligent dolphins for fun as a ‘coming of age ritual’ just to leave most of the whales to rot on the beach and feeding the rest of the poisonous meat to their innocent children. As if the Faroese were the most ignorant and worst enemies of nature you can find on the face of the earth. Sadly many people believe these fantastic stories.
Captain Paul Watson: Some people may well believe this, but this is not the position put forth by the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society. We do believe the “Grind” is indeed senseless, primitive, murderous, and barbaric but at no time have we ever accused the Faeroese, as a people, of being these things. I view the seal slaughter in Canada as senseless, primitive, murderous, and barbaric but that does not mean I view Canadians (of which I am one) as being guilty of these vile behaviors. I think some Faeroese, those that support the slaughter, try to promote the spin that we all hate the Faeroese when in truth Sea Shepherd opposes whalers without discrimination. We are not concerned with the nationalities of the whalers – we are concerned with whaling.
I understand the disgusted feelings it evokes in people to see the pictures that have been spread around. I admit that pilot whale killing looks like a brutal bloodbath with all those people participating in the kill running around on shore and in the water, seemingly for no purpose – and with all that blood in the sea.
Captain Paul Watson: It looks like a brutal bloodbath because it is a brutal bloodbath.
But the graphic pictures don’t reveal the whole truth. Far from it. I understand it looks shocking to people who haven’t seen anything like this before and don’t know what is going on. To them it seems incomprehensible. So they judge it based only on their immediate feelings of disgust. Which one can’t blame them for. They see it from their own angle – and in their view: how can anyone in their right mind kill dolphins that way – such wonderful creatures!?
Captain Paul Watson: It looks shocking because it is shocking. The slaughter of cetaceans in this manner, or in any other manner, has no place in the 21st Century.
I must say for myself: I don’t like to see animals being killed – like most people. I hate it. I wish humans could be less dependent on meat consumption. I think that dolphins as well as other whales are fascinating and wonderful creatures. So far I’m not that different from most people in the western world.
Captain Paul Watson: How often have I heard this, “I don’t like to see animals being killed BUT.” The difference between the writer and most other people in the world is that she condones and supports the mass slaughter of dolphins. Most people in the world attempt to rescue pilot whales when they become stranded and come ashore, whereas in the Faeroes the whalers drive them in to shore to kill them.
What makes me different, though, is that I’m Faroese. I grew up in the Faroe Islands where people have been killing pilot whales for food for at least 1200 years (according to research based on archeological excavations). I do not eat pilot whale meat myself though (I don’t like the taste of it. Actually I almost don’t eat meat at all – just occasionally. But I like the blubber, though, together with dry fish).
Captain Paul Watson: I am Canadian and I grew up where men slaughter baby seals by the hundreds of thousands. “It’s part of our culture,” I was told all during my childhood. “It’s a Canadian tradition” I was told. It has been done for hundreds of years like head hunting has been practised in the Solomon Islands for a thousand years. As a Canadian whose roots in Maritime Canada go back to 1587, I reject such a culture as barbaric, senseless, primitive, and as something that I want no part of.
What made me write this blog post is, that I don’t recognize the picture at all painted of my people in all these anti-whaling campaigns and petitions flourishing all over where people sign up to express their disgust about the Faroese pilot whaling tradition. It makes me so sad to see all the prejudice and all these wildly exaggerated wrongful rumors about my people that have been spread through out the world by people – either on purpose as part of shock tactics to get their anti-whaling point across, or because they don’t know better – when the truth is that for the Faroese people the pilot whale killing has always been a matter of survival – and still is in a way. It certainly does not help the whales to agitate people. I’ll get back to that point further down in this blog post.
Captain Paul Watson: It really is difficult to exaggerate the horrific massacre of entire pods of pilot whales. Killing pilot whales is not a matter of survival today, in a country that enjoys one of the highest per capita incomes in the world. Faeroese supermarkets are full of products from around the world, beef, chicken, tropical fruits, fish, gourmet products. There can be no legitimate argument to support the killing of pilot whales for survival. As for agitating the people, I notice that the mainstream, low key, educational approaches of other groups over the years did not achieve much in the way of changing attitudes.
I will try to explain – in an honest, truthful way – what is going on, seen from a Faroese angle. And I will kindly ask you, the reader, to forget – just for a moment – all that you’ve seen and/or heard about pilot whaling in the Faroes, and set all the emotions of disgust and anger it created aside, and just try to read this blog post without any prejudice.
Captain Paul Watson: How do you set emotions aside? How do you ignore disgust at brutal slaughter?
First, let’s correct some misunderstandings
The “dolphins” the Faroese kill are not bottlenose dolphins (like ‘Flipper’) who most people are familiar with, but long-finned pilot whales which is another species, though it is in the same family – only the pilot whale behaves more like a big whale than like a dolphin. But that might be beside the point for many, so I won’t dwell with that. The fact is that the Faroese have always looked upon pilot whales as a source of food in pretty much the same manner as most people in the world look upon cattle or pigs as a source of food (even though pigs, for instance, actually are quite sentient, social and intelligent animals, perhaps just as much as pilot whales).
Captain Paul Watson: Pilot whales are dolphins. If the Pilot whale was the mainstay of the Faeroese diet why do they now eat chicken, pork, veal, lamb, mutton, beef, puffin, duck, goose, and even kangaroo and ostrich. Pigs are sentient, social, and intelligent animals so it seems that the writer is saying that sentience, sociability, and intelligent are not relevant when it comes to the question of slaughter.
Almost any foreign article I’ve read about pilot whaling in the Faroe Islands, claims that the pilot whale killings take place “once a year”. I don’t know from where this misunderstanding originates. Perhaps it came about because Faroese officials have used the phrase: “annual kill”, which doesn’t refer to a single event – they actually just refer to the amount of whales killed on average over the course of a year. In fact pilot whale killings can take place several times during a year, and some years no killings take place at all.
Captain Paul Watson: At no time has Sea Shepherd ever stated that the hunt takes place once a year. I have not heard this mentioned or published by any other conservation or animal rights organization anywhere. The slaughter can take place anytime during the year although statistically the most kills take place between May and October.
It is also claimed that pilot whaling only takes place in the summer. This is also a misunderstanding. Pilot whaling takes place randomly when pods of pilot whales are spotted, for instance from land or from small boats sailing close to shore in the waters between the islands. Since there is more boat traffic in Faroese waters in the summer, the likelihood of a pilot whale kill taking place in the summer is greater than in the winter, but pilot whaling can and does take place in other seasons as well.
Captain Paul Watson: As noted above, Sea Shepherd has never stated that.
Many foreigners refer to the pilot whale slaughter in the Faroes as a ‘ritual’, which the Faroese perform as a ‘celebration’ of the ‘coming of age’ of young men. This is ridiculous. This misunderstanding probably comes from some words and phrases being mixed up. Some people probably get the connotation ‘ritual’ and ‘tribe’ when they hear the word ‘tradition’, and forget that their own habit of eating turkey for Christmas dinner is also a ‘tradition’. Some Faroese might have said at some point, that they think that boys somehow become grown men when they participate in a whale kill the first time, because this reality of life and death somehow toughens them up, but this is far from saying that the kill is done for this purpose only!
Captain Paul Watson: It has been described as a rite of passage by the whalers themselves.
This is a excerpt from the Faeroese book 2 Minutes:
The Whale hunt is “…the ultimate shared male activity, with an almost religious character. It is dangerous and demanding, and provides opportunities to prove ourself as a man.”
These are Faeroes words. In fact this is the original “..den ultimative fælles mandfolkeaktivitet næsten religios karakter. Det er farligt og krævende og giver dig lejlighed til at vise dig som et mandfolk.”
It is also often claimed that the pilot whale killing is a ‘celebration’ and a ‘feast’ – almost like a carnival, which outsiders find quite offensive. But this is highly exaggerated. One must understand that in the old days the Faroese, obviously, were very pleased that by killing the pilot whales, they had obtained enough food to ensure their own survival in a long time, which they understandably thought was worth celebrating. Moreover, it was not possible for many who participated in the killing to sail home the same day or evening. Accordingly, they stayed in the village and then everybody gathered to sing and dance together to greet each other, keep warm and talk about their achievement. Today this particular part of the tradition is no more, though some of the whalers sometimes might gather afterwards to drink a few beers at the local pub, if they like, just because they are happy to see each other.
I would think this is quite normal human behavior, but sometimes it seems that people elsewhere way too willingly misunderstand all this, perhaps because they subconsciously search for something to confirm their own prejudice. Their initial reaction to the often very dramatic descriptions and portrayals of the whale killings they come across is, understandably, disgust. Perhaps they just need to justify their own feelings. Since dramatic descriptions by often quite ignorant – or biased – outsiders far outnumber the Faroese viewpoint in global media and / or online, people might have small chances to get acquainted with all the facts, which perhaps could explain the incomprehensible. Which is why I write this blog post.
Pilot whale killing not as brutal as it seems
Even if it might be hard to believe, the pilot whale killing is in fact not as brutal as it seems. It’s not about a lot of insane people just throwing themselves into a killing frenzy making as much harm to the whales as they possibly can – which many people seem to believe, and want others to believe too by spreading these inflammatory messages. But most of these people have never been there themselves and have never spoken to any Faroese people asking them what is going on.
Captain Paul Watson: Again from the Faeroese pro-whaling book 2 Minutes: “I noticed the tranced state of mind of the whale killers. They were out of reach and led my thoughts to a good vampire movie with the vampires ready to taste blood. Through my lense I realized that the trance was a deep-rooted preparation, a sort of pre-war meditations.” – Regin W. Dalsgaard.
I and my crew have been to the Faeroes and spoken to the Faeroese, to politicians, to whalers, to students, to average citizens. We were there in 1983, 1985, 1986, 2000, 2010, and 2011.
Behind the spectacle is a highly developed killing method – a joint effort – which makes sure that the killing is done as quickly as possible to minimize the whales’ suffering as much as humanely possible. Killing such big animals is challenging. Suffering can, unfortunately, never be totally eradicated, just as any other animals’ suffering killed for food elsewhere in the world can’t be eradicated. But of course suffering can be minimized – which the Faroese are eager to do even if it doesn’t seem so to an outsider.
Captain Paul Watson: Once again from the book Two Minutes: “How long a whale kill lasts varies, depending on the circumstances. In a recent study it is reported that the average killing time was 28 minutes.”
Twenty-eight minutes of abject terror as the whales try to defend themselves, as mothers try to protect their calves, as the large males try to defend their community. Twenty eight minutes of stabbing, slashing, jabbing, clubbing, cutting as they die in their own blood and shit, an entire pod, an entire community annihilated. This is a bloody, cruel, insensitive, remorseless, merciless slaughter of intelligent socially complex marine mammals and such a slaughter would cause even more worldwide revulsion if carried out on land against say a herd of elephants. Some people seem to think it is okay to do to animals in the sea what they would never condone against animals on land.
Finally we are not outsiders because the pilot whales do not belong to the Faeroese, they are a species that we who protect them have as much right and standing as those who seek to slaughter them. They were not raised on farms in the Faeroe Island. They are wild citizens of the sea, free and wide ranging who need not fear the coasts of any other nation than the Faeroes.
One reason that the Faeroese kill the entire pod according to one whaler I spoke with is that they fear the whales will relate the dangers of the Grind to other whales and thus the others would avoid the killing grounds of the Faeroe Islands. Dead whales spread no tales in other words.
There is a purpose for all those people being there at the kill. Everyone has a task that takes certain skills that have been passed on from generation to generation. The more people participate in the pilot whaling the quicker it’s over with.
Some of them drive the whales to shore with boats to make as many whales as possible swim up unto the beach.
Some of them wade into the water to pull the remaining whales the last bit of the way up onshore with (rounded) hooks in the blowholes – which is the quickest way to do it. The sharp hooks one sometimes can see in pictures of the killings are ONLY used to move whales away that have already been killed.
Captain Paul Watson: In other words the sharp hooks are comparable to the picadors of the bullfight as a painful way to control the movement and behaviour of the animals. Imagine slaughterhouses in other places driving a hook into the nostrils or mouth of a cow or pig to drag it into the abattoir. That would be illegal. In 2 Minutes the hook is described as: “The hook is struck into the heads of the whales so that they can be pulled towards the hunter in a boat or onto the shore.”
Yet the slaughter is described as humane. Everywhere that animals are killed from the clubbing of baby seals to the slaughter of kangaroos the killers always preface their actions as “humane”. It has become simply a catch phrase to describe atrocities to nature.
Some people stand ready on the beach to cut the whales’ spine with a knife in one movement in the second the whale is positioned to make sure that the whale is killed as quickly as possible. Lately a new killing method has been developed – a special tool, which cuts the spine in an instant. This means that every single whale dies within 4-5 seconds (!) on average – not minutes, as one often sees, outsiders claim.
Captain Paul Watson: Our crew have observed the slaughter and filmed it. Whales do not die in 4-5 seconds or even in two minutes. We have seen whales scream and thrash about for over ten minutes. Imagine cutting the spine of a bull with a knife in 5 seconds. It can’t be done. If it were possible slaughterhouses would not use stun guns. Whales are much harder to kill than bulls. Imagine killing an elephant with a knife in 5 seconds by cutting it’s spinal cord. Pilot whales can reach two and a half tons each, they are thrashing about in the water, they are bucking and diving. Just how does one cut a moving animals spinal cord efficiently in under five seconds during such a struggle? That’s like asking a cowboy to cut a horse’s spinal cord while trying to stay on the saddle. It is absurd that they would have people believe that these whales are killed so quickly.
Some take the killed whales away to somewhere where the meat is cut, divided and distributed in the community. Every single bit of meat and blubber is used for food and everyone gets their share for free. There is a law that demands that nothing must go to waste and that any leftovers, like bones, the scull and intestines unfit for consumption, must be taken away within 24 hours.
So some take the bones, the scull and intestines and dump them in the ocean in deep water with strong currents, where they probably would have ended up anyway if the whales had died of natural causes.
Captain Paul Watson: We have filmed entire bodies dumped into the sea. Because of the restrictions on eating whale meat due to heavy toxic mercury in the meat, more whales are killed than can be eaten. We have documented the dumping of entire bodies at sea and some of the bodies are also incinerated.
And some take their children to see how all this is done from A to Z. Not for entertainment but to teach them the facts of life on these islands and how people survive here. That is how it’s been done for many centuries.
Captain Paul Watson: They not only take their children, they allow their children to participate and we have documented children playing with fetuses, poking out eyes, and cutting whales with knives. Again, the Faeroese comparison with slaughterhouses is absurd because slaughterhouse workers do not take their children to work with them to amuse themselves with the bodies.
Yes, there is a lot of blood – these are very big animals. They loose a lot of blood instantly when they’re killed properly. The quicker the sea gets red it’s a sign that the killing has been swift and effective.
Captain Paul Watson: I think it is safe to say they lose a great deal of blood even if they are killed improperly.
Usually the number of whales in a pod counts from 50 up to 200 animals. The actual killing of ALL the whales in a pod is over with in approximately 10-15 minutes, perhaps up to 20 minutes if there are many whales in the pod, but very, very rarely more than that. Not more than it takes to kill pigs in a slaughter house.
Captain Paul Watson: According to the book 2 Minutes the average time is 28 minutes as noted earlier. It does not take 28 minutes to kill a pig in a slaughterhouse but if he is referring to a group of pigs then this is not a valid comparison. Entire herds of wild pigs are not rounded up and slaughtered. The time of course is dependent on the number of pigs. This constant reference to slaughterhouses is meant to deflect concern and to make others who do eat meat feel guilty, but wild animals are not slaughtered in slaughterhouses and the circumstances are radically different.
Traditional diet in danger – not because of the Faroese, but because of the outside world
As I mentioned before, excavations show that pilot whales have been part of the diet on the islands for 1200 years. Since 1584 the whale killings have been monitored and the numbers show that the Faroe Islanders have taken an average of 850 pilot whales yearly out of a North Atlantic population of presumably 750,000 (according to scientific study) – some years more, some years less.
Captain Paul Watson: According to the IUCN the number of pilot whales is unknown. This number of 750,000 originates with the Faeroese and has no scientific credibility. We simply do not know how many pilot whales there are. When pilot whales were slaughtered in the 50’s and 60’s in Newfoundland to feed to mink, the Canadian government and the mink ranchers and fishermen stated every year that the population of pilot whales was sustainable. In the mid-Sixites the population crashed and has still not recovered.
The Pilot whales are not on the list of endangered species. According to the Faroese they haven’t seen the number of pods swimming by the islands decrease – seen over time – all these years they have killed pilot whales. Of course, there has always been some fluctuation of natural causes, for instance, because some years the pilot whales’ own diet – the squids – swim further from the Faroese shores than other years. But the Faroese are convinced that the killing is still sustainable. If the number should decrease it’s pretty certain that the Faroese aren’t to blame. It’s most likely because of changes in the whales’ natural environment caused by pollution.
Captain Paul Watson: Let me see, we kill pilot whales and no one else does but if they disappear we are not to blame. The Faeroese cite pollution and blame other nations without giving thought to the fact that they drive cars, own appliances, and share in the material wealth of industrialized services including having one of the most ruthlessly efficient fishing industries in the world. Yet they will not be to blame?
Note that it is Faroese researchers who have been studying the pilot whale and who have brought the world’s attention to the problem with contamination of the whale population and the dangers of mercury poisoning. Why would the Faroese do that if they didn’t care?
Captain Paul Watson: They certainly should care about the health issues of methyl mercury poisoning, but unfortunately some Faeroese are ignoring the warnings and feeding the meat in higher than recommended amounts to their own children.
In reality, the Faroese are very conscious of the fact that they must take care of nature – including the whales and the whale stocks. The Faroese are very aware of how important it is to preserve this natural resource, to keep it healthy and keep the killing sustainable because their people have been vitally dependent on whale meat for centuries. So they do not kill more than needed and not enough to endanger the species – just like they’ve always done. There are cases where whale pods have been driven back to sea because authorities have estimated that people have received enough whale meat.
Captain Paul Watson: Whale meat is wasted and discarded. It is untrue that all the whale is utilized. The dumping of whale meat has been documented.
People do not eat more than the researchers recommend – but it is also important to note that even if the researchers have issued a warning they also acknowledge the fact that the whale meat is rich in poly-unsaturated fats, and essential vitamins and minerals, such as selenium, which means that there are still health benefits to be gained by eating whale meat if one just makes sure that the intake is limited.
Captain Paul Watson: Some of the whalers brag that the scientists do not know what they are talking about and do eat more than is recommended and the amount of whale meat taken each year is much higher than the total allowable consumption.
Crucial for survival in the old days – and still is in a way
Pilot whale killing was absolutely crucial for survival back in the old days where it was almost impossible to get hold of vegetables (and difficult to get hold of the vitamins that go with them) at this latitude. People shared the meat in solidarity with each other. It was distributed to the local community according to rules made a thousand years ago, where especially elderly and sick people and widows were taken into consideration – a tradition the Faroese have kept intact until this day. They still don’t kill whales for commercial purposes.
Captain Paul Watson: We have seen and documented whale meat being sold in Faeroese supermarkets and it is also sold in Denmark. Selling is a commercial activity.
It has simply been a question of helping the whole community to survive in a very harsh and inhospitable environment on some isolated islands in the middle of the North Atlantic. The pilot whale is therefore still highly valued by the Faroese as a life saving contributor and a symbol of a unique solidarity between the islanders.
But why do the Faroese still kill pilot whales in modern times? Is it necessary? This is a tricky question because it’s a little complicated to explain why people here still find killing pilot whales somehow necessary – even if the meat is polluted. Quite incomprehensible, isn’t it?
Captain Paul Watson: No not incomprehensible if the whales are killed for traditional reasons, in other words for sport. Many Faeroese state they simply like to kill whales.
People might understand why it was necessary in the old days, but now? Why now? Well… Faroese economy is still heavily reliant on primary production and has only recently begun to make inroads into secondary and tertiary provision. It is, even today, often difficult to run business and make ends meet in this remote area. It is expensive to import and buy vegetables. Economy fluctuates much more here than in other countries in the modern world because the Faroese income is dependent on nature’s fragile balance and often quite irregular cycles.
Captain Paul Watson: The Faeroese receive huge annual subsidies from Denmark and thus the European Union, despite the fact they claim exemption from the Union which is convenient because the killing of whales is prohibited by the EU. In other words they receive EU benefits without EU responsibilities.
As late as in the early 90’ies there was a huge economic crisis that consequently had almost a fourth of the people migrate from the islands. Parts of the remaining population survived by helping each other, for instance exchanging goods without having money involved. In these years whale meat was a very important part of the meat consumption. A fourth of the whole meat consumption was pilot whale meat.
Captain Paul Watson: How can this be if the writer has already stated that the Faeroese abide by the health regulations on consumption of whale meat? The consumption could not have increased over the recommended allowable limits. She can’t have it both ways.
It means that in the eyes of the Faroese the pilot whale has up to this day been one of the most important key factors for their survival – especially in times of economic crisis. Crises and recessions occur relatively often in islands like the Faroes with harsh natural environments and fragile homogenous economies. These predicaments usually hit the island people hard.
Captain Paul Watson: The Faeroese have one of the highest standards of living in the entire world. They are not poor. They are not even close to poor. There are no homeless people in the Faeroe Islands.
Faroe Islanders are therefore used to rescue themselves by going back to basics from time to time – even if they on a daily basis seem to live a modern life today. But the Faroese are – from bitter experience – never far from the next crisis in their mind – and thus never far from the basics of life either.
Today the world economic crisis rages and has hit the Faroese people as well. One of the two biggest banks in the Faroes went bankrupt this year and we have still not seen the magnitude of the consequences following this severe bank crisis.
Captain Paul Watson: They were bailed out by Denmark.
Now that we are all affected by the ongoing world economic crisis, it is, for instance, natural for the Faroese to think that if the crisis gets even worse in the future, killing whales might still be very important for survival. So why give it up and forget all about the skills of killing pilot whales? These skills might come in very handy one day if everything else crumbles. The rest of the world may very well suddenly be on fire and then the Faroese will find themselves cut off and all alone out there, far away in the ocean – totally dependent on what is available on site.
Captain Paul Watson: This sounds very paranoid and insular and quite unrealistic. More like a desperate grasp for justification for the slaughter of whales really.
That is part of the reason why the Faroese have been so reluctant to give up on this tradition, even if they regard themselves as a modern civilized people in many ways today and usually, in better times, aren’t as dependent on whale meat as they have been before. But they want to preserve their inherited whale driving and killing skills because they still feel that they live in an environment that demands of them that they trust more in themselves, i.e. in their bare hands together with nature’s mercy, as the best guarantee for survival.
Captain Paul Watson: Should Americans keep beaver trapping and buffalo hunting alive? Should the head hunters of the Solomon islands keep the practise going so that the skills are not forgotten? We must evolve to a place where cultural traditions cannot be used to justify cruelty to and extinction of species.
Rather than settling for being entirely dependent on import and the modern worlds complicated and fraud full economic systems, they rely on what ever they’re able to harvest directly from their surrounding natural environment. They feel very strongly about this because they are proud of their old traditions that helped them survive for so long. Of course they choose to hold on to what ever makes them feel the safest, the strongest and the least vulnerable.
Captain Paul Watson: Does cruelty and slaughter encourage strength and security?
Misunderstood by the world outside
Let’s give it an extra thought. Of course it is difficult for people from outside the Faroe Islands to understand the Faroese people’s behavior; especially if they haven’t ever experienced that their life was dependent on what they could harvest directly from wild nature. It’s only natural that they find it disturbing, if they focus solely on the unfortunate animals and not on the livelihood of the people who live in places where you can’t grow vegetables and where people for so long had to survive with whatever means they had available.
Captain Paul Watson: No one is dependent upon killing whales in the Faeroes. Not a single person. They can grow vegetables in the Faeroes and they do – in greenhouses and the boats arrive daily from Denmark, one of the most efficient agricultural nations in Europe
Most people would probably feel quite helpless if they had to kill an animal with their bare hands in order to get a meal on their table. But they don’t have to do anything disgusting like that because they live a modern civilised life with all necessities within close reach. With those living conditions it’s very easy to forget that they’re actually themselves dependent on the killing of animals too.
Captain Paul Watson: Yes they live in the same world as the Faeroese and the Faeroese get their food from the same place everyone else does – the supermarket, except for fish and puffins and of course whales. By the way because of puffin consumption in the Faeroes and Iceland and the destruction of san eels by Danish fisheries (the food of the puffins) the puffin numbers have been seriously diminished.
Of course they know it, but they probably prefer not to think too much about it. I guess they don’t like to think of themselves as some kind of predators. But the fact is, that most people eat animals without giving it a single thought that somebody had to kill the animal, for them to be able to eat it. The modern world has created a whole industry out of people’s need to displace these facts. We do whatever we can to distance ourselves from the fact that we – humans – exploit animals by making it as invisible and painless (for ourselves) as possible that we breed animals to kill them so we can eat their meat. We don’t want to know about it so we hide it away so we don’t have to look at it.
Captain Paul Watson: There is an ever growing vegetarian movement worldwide and there are practicing vegetarians in the Faeroes. We have met them. All vegetables including tropical are available in Faeroese supermarkets. All the meat products consumed on the mainland are also available in the Faeroes.
Considering this, I’m not surprised why people get so angry with the Faroese. How can people who never see animals being slaughtered and don’t have any direct contact with animals (other than pets of course) feel otherwise than they do? How can people that almost only see wild animals in zoo – or as they are portrayed on TV or films made for entertainment – be any other than sentimental about these animals. How can they NOT get shocked by the bloody images of whale slaughter. It’s very understandable.
Captain Paul Watson: She almost seems to be making the argument that those societies that do not participate in the slaughter of wild animals are missing something, are less virtuous, less worthy than the Faeroese culture where slaughter is looked upon as a virtue and something to be proud of.
But can they be sure that their own life style is a better alternative? Can they be sure that it is right to judge so harshly so quickly just based on the feelings some seemingly brutal pictures evoke in them? Can they be sure that they’re not blinded themselves by their own self-righteousness? Are they themselves in a position to point at others?
Captain Paul Watson: Talk about separation from reality. The Faeroese lifestyle is the western European lifestyle, the only difference being that they kill whales. It could be compared to the Spanish life style, where the only difference is the bullfight. In 2 Minutes the Dalgaard writes; “The whale hunt is the Faeroese equivalent of the bullfight. However calm, indifferent and reluctant to show their feelings in everyday life, they become just as violent, determined and driven when possessed by the whale hunt.” The difference of course is that the bull fight has been outlawed in Catalonia and there is a popular growing movement against it in the rest of Spain. The bullfight will soon be gone and hopefully so will the Grind.
What they don’t know (or perhaps don’t want to know) is, that they might themselves, very likely, be a much bigger threat to nature and the whale populations of the world than the Faroese will ever be. Their modern way of living is based on a heavily polluting mass industry which has much more unfortunate consequences for nature in the long run – including the whales. Their food consumption is dependent on an often extremely polluting agriculture, or on all the poor animals that have become domesticated living their whole life in captivity, often under horrible circumstances, totally on the mercy of humans, bred only for one purpose – to be meat for humans. The Faroese old way of living has, on the other hand, proved to be a much more life-sustaining way with much less impact on nature – allowing the animals to live a free life until the moment they are killed.
Captain Paul Watson: Yet the Faeroese are equal participants in this modern way of living. They have expensive cars, expensive boats, and expensive tastes just like the rest of Europe. It is very arrogant of the writer to say they are exceptionally simply because they retain a barbaric tradition to “balance” out their modern materialism.
What can we all learn?
What to do about it? I don’t know…. Is it possible to learn from each other and make the gap smaller between the old Faroese traditional – and actually more eco friendly – way of living and the modern life….? That’s the big question….
Are pilot whales more special creatures than so many other – also sentient creatures humans kill for food? Should they get special treatment for that reason? (As I’ve stated before, the pilot whales are not on the list of endangered species.) I really don’t know. I’m just asking the question. Who’s to decide where the limit should be to which animals should be allowed to kill for food and which not? If the degree of animals social skills should be the criteria that determines which animals are fit for killing for food or not, why do we kill pigs or hens? They are highly sociable animals. If intelligence should be the criteria, pigs should definitely not be on the list. Latest research shows that squids are highly intelligent creatures, but we eat them anyway – yes, even pilot whales eat squids! What do we make of that? Define it as inhumane, unacceptable behavior?
Captain Paul Watson: If the entire rest of the world does not kill pilot whales but in fact rescues them when they are distressed and beached, why should the Faeroes be given special dispensation to slaughter them. Pilot whales are wild free ranging migratory animals and they do not belong to those in the Faeroes who plunder their lives out of self awarded entitlement.
And if the suffering of the whales is the big concern, well, is there someone who can come up with a better way to do the killing, to make it more “humane” (whatever that means)? I am absolutely sure that the Faroese will be open to reason and very happy to take some friendly advice. They have proved that they have done so in the past – they have listened to criticism, if it’s been fair, and have changed their ways.
Captain Paul Watson: Yes they did change some of their methods in response to our campaigns in the 80’s, but the killing methods. Funny that – killing methods were not greatly improved, like it is some kind of virtuous progress. But the simple fact of the matter is that there is no humane way to kill a whale. The writer even admits she does not understand what the word “humane” actually means.
To ask the Faroese to stop this practice and just become vegetarians would seem a little unrealistic considering how expensive it is to buy vegetables in the Faroes because all vegetables must be imported from far away. And it would seem a little hypocritical to ask the Faroese to start importing more meat from other animals – maybe treated less humanely than the whales. This meat would also have to be imported and transported over long distances in heavily polluting freight vessels that seriously damage the habitat of the whales – the ocean – and cause the contamination of whales… No, there is no simple solution.
Captain Paul Watson: They already import meat and vegetables so they would not be starting to do so, they have done so for decades. They already transport the goods in ships and planes. So they would not be exchanging the Grind for industrialized agriculture and transportation, they already have it. They seem to want both – the material benefits and luxuries of the new while retaining the traditions of the old. Would they be willing to sacrifice the modern conveniences to live the old ways exclusively? I think not.
So… if you are really interested in doing the best for the whales (and not just blindly following some inflammatory out-roar pleasing your own need to burst your aggression out) then try to get the facts right and act as respectfully as you would want the Faroese to act. Get into a constructive dialog, please.
Captain Paul Watson: Amazing, she describes opposition to cruelty and slaughter as aggressive behaviour. This goes in hand with the Faeroese whalers this last summer calling us psychopaths for opposing slaughter. How do you get into a constructive dialogue with people who enjoy killing? I actually tried to initiate dialogue last summer but was denied a venue to speak anywhere in the Faeroes. Apparently you have the freedom to speak if you say the things they agree that you can say. Dialogue means, in effect, agreeing to support the slaughter of pilot whales.
Well, this is just my way of looking at it. Other people – also Faroese – may disagree with me. But anyway…. this is an important topic to discuss! If you’re interested in knowing more about this topic, read also the page about pilot whaling on my other website – especially the last 3-4 sections about why all the anti-whaling campaigns have failed – and perhaps just endanger the pilot whales even more….!
Captain Paul Watson: Right we who are opposed to the killing are endangering the pilot whale because we are opposed to the killing of pilot whales? In other words the whalers will kill more animals out of spite if we don’t conform to their way of thinking.
The point I’m trying to make is this: The more people outside the Faroes condemn the Faroese, and the more they punish the Faroese by not buying their export goods or by not travelling to the islands, the more isolated will the Faroese be from the rest of the world, and the more they will tend to stick to their old traditions – which in the end means that more pilot whales will be killed!
Captain Paul Watson: So in her mind the killing is worth the condemnation of millions of people from around the world, because no one is going to tell them what they can kill and if the rest of the world does not agree with us well, we’ll just throw a temper tantrum and kill more. Why? Because we can. Not because we need to, not because we have to, but because we just want to piss off compassionate and caring people throughout the world whose crime and vice is that they have empathy for the suffering and lives of a wonderful, intelligent, socially complex, magnificent sentient being.
Elin Brimheim Heinesen, 8. September 2009