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They Slaughter Dolphins, Don’t They?

By November 6, 2014No Comments

Commentary by Erwin Vermeulen

“Abundant” and “common” are the whale killers’ favorite words, after “sustainable.” In their vocabulary, “abundant” means: “we have no idea how many animals there are, but we are going to claim, without scientific evidence, that there are enough for us to continue killing them.”
~ Erwin Vermeulen


A pod of dolphins shortly after slaughter Photo: Sea Shepherd


That besides their proud tradition of killing entire pods of long-finned pilot whales (Globicephala melas, Grindahvalur in Faroes), the men-with-knives in the Faroes also slaughter large families of smaller dolphin species, is an uneasy subject on the islands. The two main publications in English on the subject of the drive hunt — Dorete Bloch’s ‘Pilot whales and the whale drive’ from 2007 and Joan Pauli Joensen’s ‘Pilot whaling in the Faroe Islands’ from 2009 — completely ignore the other dolphin species that are driven into the bays and butchered on the beaches of these ferocious isles.

Some of the locals are in complete denial and refute that dolphins are being killed at all; others maintain it is rare and only happens to dolphins that beach themselves and are thus put out of their misery and fully utilized for food.

Others still, follow the line of the publication ‘Marine Mammals in Faroese Waters,’ that basically blames the death of these smaller dolphin species on their habit of mingling with pilot whales:

“The bottlenose dolphin is the third species that often mixes with pilot whales and, thus, this species is also occasionally harvested.”

Of course, all of these assertions are lies. As in Taiji, Japan, dolphins are specifically targeted, driven and killed in the Faroe Islands.


On August 13, 2013, a staggering 430 Atlantic white-sided dolphins were massacred in Hvalba Photo: Sea Shepherd

In a recent press release from the Faroese Prime Minister’s Office titled: “Sea Shepherd activists arrested for disturbing a group of dolphins near Tórshavn,” the Faroese government hesitantly admits that much when referring to the Atlantic white-sided dolphins that Sea Shepherd’s RIB Spitfire escorted away from the deadly beaches:

“Individual animals occasionally occur together with schools of pilot whales, while separate schools are also sometimes driven and beached…”

“Sometimes” doesn’t really apply to the massacre of Atlantic white-sided dolphins (Lagenorhynchus acutus, Hvítskjórutir springari in Faroese) in the Faroe Islands:

On August 13, 2013, a staggering 430 Atlantic white-sided dolphins were massacred in Hvalba, on the southern island of Suduroy. The photos accompanying this commentary are from that day. The same village killed fourteen individuals on August 30, 2010. In 2009, on August 22, a family of 100 was killed in Øravik on the same island.

The list goes on:

Date Location Dolphins Slaughtered
26/08/2006 Hvalba 223
24/08/2006 Hvalba 3
14/08/2006 Hvalba 27
08/08/2006 Klaksvik 327
22/07/2006 Trongisvagur 6
22/02/2006 Hvalvik 1
16/08/2005 Hvalba 22 in pod with 49 pilot whales
12/08/2005 Sandavagur 12
12/08/2005 Fuglafjordur 271
07/08/2005 Trongisvagur 22
06/05/2005 Aeduvik 1
16/04/2005 Hvannasund 7
18/09/2004 Hvannasund 5
09/09/2004 Runavik 7
08/09/2004 Klaksvik 291
28/08/2004 Sydrugota 24
21/08/2004 Bordoyarvik 6
12/09/2003 Klaksvik 20
06/09/2003 Tvøroyri 6
06/09/2003 Hvannasund 50
05/09/2003 Torshavn 6
26/08/2003 Hvalvik 104
27/09/2002 Vestmanna 16
26/09/2002 Vestmanna 26
23/09/2002 Hvalba 99
17/09/2002 Hvannasund 148
17/09/2002 Sydrugota 110
16/09/2002 Torshavn 11
14/09/2002 Vagur 280
03/09/2002 Hvalba 42
03/09/2002 Hvalvik 36
19/08/2002 Hvannasund 6
22/09/2001 Klaksvik 55
21/09/2001 Hvalba 325
18/09/2001 Torshavn 46
17/09/2001 Sydrugota 48
06/09/2001 Klaksvik 26
05/09/2001 Hvannasund 18
30/06/2001 Klaksvik 8
04/09/2000 Hvalba 13
30/08/2000 Vagur 186
22/08/2000 Klaksvik 66
22/09/1998 Hovsfjordur 36
22/09/1998 Trongisvagur 219
13/09/1998 Fuglafjordur 16
27/07/1998 Famjin 167
23/10/1997 Klaksvik 6
14/10/1997 Torshavn 21
14/10/1997 Hvalvik 24
14/10/1997 Hvalvik 19
30/09/1997 Hvannasund 7
26/09/1997 Sydrugota 16
05/09/1997 Nolsoy 12
29/08/1997 Funningsfjordur 65
28/08/1997 Sydrugota 22
21/08/1997 Klaksvik 158
19/10/1996 Hvalvik 26
07/10/1996 Porkeri 6
06/10/1996 Porkeri 9
05/10/1996 Vagur 30
09/09/1996 Funningsfjordur 13
25/08/1996 Torshavn 19
12/08/1996 Klaksvik 49
04/09/1995 Hvalvik 3
26/08/1995 Hvannasund 41
20/08/1995 Fuglafjordur 110
01/08/1995 Hvalvik 3
04/10/1994 Hvalvik 5
18/09/1994 Hvalba 10
17/09/1994 Torshavn 10
14/09/1994 Vagur 20
04/09/1994 Kollafjordur 15
04/09/1994 Hvalvik 58
25/09/1993 Vagur 100
24/09/1993 Vestmanna 15
20/09/1993 Fuglafjordur 199
30/08/1993 Sydrugota 12
05/08/1993 Hvalvik 12
17/07/1993 Hvannasund 19
13/07/1993 Husavik 35
04/07/1992 Klaksvik 2 in pod of 150 pilot whales

It is not “sometimes.” These are not rare occasions, and it is not just unlucky dolphins accompanying pilot whales.


These dolphins were slaughtered and marked in similar fashion to the pilot whales hunted during a grind Photo: Sea Shepherd

1992 is when the public record (Grindayvirlit) starts when it comes to the hunting of smaller dolphin species. The list of pilot whale killings goes back to 1709 and fragmented even to 1584. This might be where the uneasiness on the subject originates. The defense and continuation of the grindadrap relies largely on the fallacy of the “appeal to tradition” — the assumption that something is good and should continue, just because it has been done for a long time.

Did a truly organized hunt of smaller dolphins not start until the 1990s? Were these smaller dolphins only taken as part of pilot whale hunts before the 1990s and unworthy of mentioning in the records? Or are the famed historical grind records not as accurate as claimed?

There is not much evidence that the slaughter of smaller dolphins should be labeled an “ancient tradition.” Hunting these faster species would have been difficult in any case before motorized boats.

The earlier mentioned study ‘Marine Mammals in Faroese Waters’ reports that 6,476 Atlantic white-sided dolphins were “harvested” (their words) in the period 1872 – 2000, without mentioning the source. For bottlenose dolphins, “whaling statistics record a harvest of 943 individuals from 1803 to 2000” — again without a source.

The public-accessible list for bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops truncates, Hvessingur in Faroes) is shorter:

Date Location Dolphins Slaughtered
07/08/2006 Sydrugota 9
22/02/2006 Sydrugota 8 in a pod a 29 pilot whales
17/09/2002 Klaksvik 11
17/09/2002 Klaksvik 7
17/08/2001 Klaksvik 6
18/09/1996 Hvalvik 2
27/08/1996 Hvalba 19
02/09/1994 Hvalvik 8
16/09/1993 Midvagur 12 in a pod of 178 Pilot whales
24/08/1993 Hvannasund 4
14/10/1991 Midvagur 62 among 127 pilot whales

The IUCN, the organization that assesses the wildlife on the Red List of Threatened Species, says about the dolphin killing in the Faroes:

“No assessment is associated with the Faroese hunting of white-sided dolphins, but there is no evidence that this aspect of the drive fishery has a long history, such as that of the pilot whale component (Reeves et al. 2003).”

The press release from the Faroese Prime Minister’s Office parrots the propagandist website by claiming:

“White-sided dolphins are a commonly occurring and abundant species around the Faroe Islands and as such they are not protected.”


“In addition to white-sided dolphins, bottlenose dolphins and harbour porpoises are also common in Faroese waters, and may be caught for food…”

“Abundant” and “common” are the whale killers’ favorite words, after “sustainable.” In their vocabulary, “abundant” means: “we have no idea how many animals there are, but we are going to claim, without scientific evidence, that there are enough for us to continue killing them.”

Instead of elaborating on this “abundance,” the press release suffices with:

“The Scientific Committee of NAMMCO (the North Atlantic Marine Mammal Commission; an assembly of marine mammal killing nations) has been requested to provide a comprehensive assessment of this species in the North Atlantic.”

The latest surveys are from the mid-1990s and all they taught us was, as is so often the case, that we know very little:


Dolphins being lifted by a crane shortly after being slaughtered Photo: Sea Shepherd

“North Atlantic Sightings Surveys (NASS) research shows that cetaceans do not occupy the same area year after year. NASS data is available for 1987, 1989, and 1995. The various species were found distributed in about the same areas in 1987 and 1989, but the 1995 survey showed that the abundance of some species was significantly different for some areas. This variation indicates that observations and surveys in the North-east Atlantic Ocean do not give a permanent picture of the distribution and abundance of whale species, but rather are snapshots of distribution patterns occurring in a changing environment according to long-term climatic oscillations in combination with possible man-made impacts.”

This quote comes again from the ‘Marine Mammals in Faroese Waters’ report that was initiated, not to prove abundance, but because “with the emergence of oil industry activity in the region of the Faroe Islands and the establishment of an Environmental Impact Assessment Program, it is necessary to review current knowledge on the marine environment and the gaps that exist in that body of knowledge…”

They even have a chapter named ‘Main Gaps in Knowledge’ that lists that “the second significant gap in our knowledge is the poor understanding of the distribution and abundance patterns of the smaller dolphin species in the Faroese area.”

On bottlenose dolphins it says:

“…no calculation of abundance has been made thus far. A very cautious estimate of the number of bottlenose dolphins in the Faroese area is around 1,000 individuals.”

Is that a good enough “abundance” to go ahead and catch as many as you can? Remember that, unlike Japan, the Faroes do not set quota limitations.

A bit further in the text, the general conclusion is:

“A lack of controlled data, therefore, has made it difficult to determine the exact number of smaller dolphin species, such as the white-sided dolphin, the white-beaked dolphin, the bottlenose dolphin, and the harbour porpoise, as well as rarely occurring species. Thus, there exits a major gap in our knowledge as to the distribution and abundance patterns of all the smaller cetacean species.”

In other words: the Faroese government is lying when it claims abundance or sustainability in the drive hunt.

Besides that, they don’t really seem to know which dolphin species can be killed. The press release and government website mention Atlantic white-sided and bottlenose dolphins and harbour porpoises, besides the long-finned pilot whales.

The February 2014 NAMMCO ‘manual on pilot whale hunting in the Faroe Islands’ produced in cooperation with Faroese Chief Veterinarian Justines Olsen and the Grindamannafelagið (Pilot Whalers’ Association), includes the following species: long-finned pilot whale, bottlenose dolphin, white-beaked dolphin and white-sided dolphin.

The harbour porpoise (Phocoena phocoena, Nisa in Faroese) is absent here, maybe because the killers prefer to shoot these, instead of driving them.

Public info on the numbers taken is very limited. In the Grindayvirlit 1584 – 2014 list, 01/11/2006, Klaksvik, 1 individual, seems to be the only non-stranding entry. Two harbour porpoises are mentioned in the grind tally of 2003, but without a date or location.

The white-beaked dolphin (Lagenorhyncus albirostris, Kjafthvitir springari in Faroese) is added here, even though the public record only lists one instance of white-beaked dolphins being driven and killed: a family of 44 individuals that was massacred in Hvalvik on 05/10/1992.

The extremely limited knowledge about dolphin species on the part of the killers and the lack of enforcement of the law and regulations by the Faroese government came to light during the massacres of Risso’s dolphins (Grampus griseus, Rissospringari in Faroese) in Klaksvík on 16 September 2009 and in Hvalba on 13 April 2010. The hunting of Risso’s dolphins is forbidden and they are easily distinguished from pilot whales or any of the smaller dolphin species — as any Cove Guardian can tell you.

In Klaksvik, after three animals were killed, the local authorities stopped the drive and ordered the rest of the group to be driven out again.

There was no one around to save the 21 Risso’s that got driven into the bay of Hvalba. It was later claimed that the Risso’s were mistaken for bottlenose dolphins.

The reaction of the Faroese government:

“After the two incidental catches in 2009 and 2010, the relevant district authorities have been advised by the Ministry of Fisheries that particular precaution should be taken to ensure that no further drive hunts of this species are initiated.”

Faroese law protected the orca (Orcinus orca, Bóghvituhvalur in Faroese) in 1986. 21 were butchered in Klaksvik on 06/18/1978. The long, agonizing suffering of these animals can be viewed on YouTube: “Faroe Islands” whale slaughter “The Grind” Orca.

That smaller dolphins would be anymore suitable as food than pilot whales is quickly dismissed by the IUCN:

“Like other North Atlantic marine mammals, White-beaked Dolphins and Atlantic white-sided Dolphins are contaminated by organochlorines, other anthropogenic compounds and heavy metals (Reeves et al. 1999)…”

As shown above, the dolphin hunt is not a tradition, the smaller dolphins are not by-catch of the pilot whale hunt, sustainability claims are unfounded and the meat is unsuitable as food.

There is no need to kill these animals and no justification.

It is just one more fallacy that, because there are other threats to cetaceans (pollution, fisheries, oil industry, climate change, etc), that would be an argument to allow the slaughter to continue.

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