Commentary by Sea Shepherd Founder, Captain Paul Watson
Q: Are pilot whales an endangered species?
A: No. The total number of pilot whales taken in the Faroe Islands can fluctuate from one year to the next. The average catch of around 800 whales a year is not considered to have a significant impact on the abundance of pilot whales, which are estimated at around 778,000.
Captain Paul Watson: The number of pilot whales in the North Atlantic is simply unknown. The estimates given in the Faroes have varied between 128,000 and 778,000. There is no credible scientific validation for any of these numbers. The Faroese slaughter targets and extinguishes entire family pods, removing the entire gene pool – and this impacts the entire North Atlantic population. The pilot whale population off Newfoundland crashed in 1966 after excessive exploitation, and up until the day it crashed the “experts” were saying the population was healthy and sustainable.
Q: Is the pilot whale hunt an annual festival?
A: Whale drives are not an annual festival or ritual, as is often wrongly claimed. Whale drives in the Faroe Islands take place to provide food, and can happen at any time of the year. The driving, beaching, killing and distribution of pilot whales are fully regulated by law and regulations. Catches are shared among the participants and local community.
Captain Paul Watson: No it is not an annual festival but each drive kill is treated as a festival. The killing can happen at any time throughout the year but primarily occurs during the months of June through October.
Q: Is pilot whale killing commercialized?
A: No. The catch is distributed for free in the local community where a catch takes place. This traditional community-based sharing of catches also ensures that the larger the catch, the more people get a share of it. However, in some supermarkets and on the dockside, whale meat and blubber is occasionally available for sale.
Captain Paul Watson: It is either commercial or it is not. When a tourist can purchase a whale stew in a restaurant in the Faroes, it is commercial.
Q: Do pilot whales suffer when they are killed?
A: Faroese animal welfare legislation, which also applies to whaling, stipulates that animals must be killed as quickly and efficiently as possible. Whales are killed on the shore and in the shallows of bays especially suited and authorized for the purpose, under the supervision of locally elected officials and by people with a required license.
Captain Paul Watson: In every case where animals are slaughtered, the killers will always argue that the killing is humane. I have seen seal pups skinned alive and I have seen them convulsing in pain, but the Canadian government insists that the seal slaughter is humane. It is noticeable that the answer given says that the legislation stipulates that the animals must be killed quickly, but does not say that they are in fact killed quickly. We have observed and documented the killing. The whales scream in pain and they thrash about in agony. They are also subjected to intense stress while being driven towards the shore. It is interesting that they do not actually answer this question – just provide a vague response. Do the whales suffer? Yes or No? Their answer does not say no and to me that implies that the answer is yes.
Q: Is whale meat and blubber contaminated?
A: The high levels of mercury/methyl mercury as well as other contaminants deriving from global industry, such as PCB and DDT in pilot whale meat and blubber, are well documented and are continually monitored.
Captain Paul Watson: They cannot deny this because Faroese doctors have exposed high levels of mercury toxicity in whale meat. Health officials would ban beef, pork or chicken if it contained the same levels of mercury, yet pilot whale meat is mysteriously given an exemption.
Q: Why do the Faroese eat contaminated whale meat and blubber?
A: Faroese people are well aware of the risks associated with consuming too much pilot whale meat and blubber. The health authorities have made recommendations on the safe limits of consumption, and people have taken these onboard. For example, pregnant women are advised not to eat whale meat and blubber.
Captain Paul Watson: People smoke when they know it will affect their health. Humans have the ability to be in denial of poisons that slowly kill them. Mercury affects the brain, literally eating away brain tissue, so the very fact that the people consume mercury could be the cause of their failure to appreciate the consequences of ingesting mercury.
Q: Is the contamination a big issue in the Faroe Islands?
A: Contaminant levels in pilot whales are a matter of considerable concern to the Faroese, who are so dependent on the sea and its resources. That is why the elimination of pollutants at their source should be the major focus of governmental cooperation and campaigns to ensure binding international commitments to clean up the oceans that are our common heritage.
Captain Paul Watson: We agree that the oceans must be cleaned of toxins and Sea Shepherd is very much involved in this effort. However the Faroese like to present themselves as victims of industrialization when they are equally participating with their industrialized fishing fleets, salmon farms and importing of automobiles, computers and all the other consumer goods that other societies consume. The Faroes are not apart from the problem; they are also a part of the problem.