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Will limits on Faroe Islands whale hunt numbers work?

Campaigners believe government-initiated caps on the number of white-sided dolphins allowed to be slaughtered at Grindadráp will not be sufficient for safeguarding local pods.

Global attitudes towards whaling have shifted massively over the last few decades, with a majority of political leaders and citizens believing that cetaceans should be protected under international conservation laws.

Despite this, the World Population Review reports that three countries continue to hunt whales for profit – Japan, Norway, and Iceland. These countries are regularly scrutinised for their practices, but convincing them to stop has proven difficult.

The most notorious non-commercial whaling event occurs in the Faroe Islands, an independent Danish territory. The annual tradition named Grindadráp or ‘grind’ in English, is around 400 years old and involves herding dolphins and whales to shallow bays where they are met by knife-equipped hunters on shore.

The meat is then distributed amongst the community for consumption during the harsh winter ahead. This was deemed as crucial preparation in times when international trade wasn’t yet booming and food was hard to come by.

But times have changed. Last year a record breaking number of dolphins – over 1,4000 – were slaughtered at Grindadráp, leading to global outcry from activists and citizens alike.

Now, the Faroe Islands government has announced that the kill number must be capped at just 500 white-sided dolphins a year.

Why are campaigners suspicious about the reform?

Their suspicions have everything to do with timing.

The UK-based environmental group Sea Shepherd has been a long-time advocate for abolishing Grindadráp – all eyes will be on the Faroe Islands in September when the tradition takes place.

A petition calling for the suspension of Britain’s free trade agreement with the Faroe Islands – until whale and dolphin hunts are discontinued – has gained more than 100,000 signatures over the last month, and in the coming days, The UK Petitions Committee is preparing to review it.

Sea Shepherd activists are suspicious that the Faroe Islands’ government strategically announced its 500 white-sided dolphin cap to deter British decision makers from limiting or completely halting their trade relations.

The kill cap may not have been necessary though, as trade minister Andrew Griffith has already stated his apprehensive attitude towards severing trade with Faroe Islands on the basis of their tradition. Griffith believes the move would be ‘counterproductive,’ reducing Britain’s influence on animal welfare standards.

But Sea Shepherd has found loophole’s in the new quota, pointing out that it does not apply to pilot whales, the primary target at Grindadráp. Records state that around 700 pilot whales are killed every year, while only 193 white-sided dolphins have been hunted over the last forty years.

They argue that the cap will do nothing to stop the number of slaughtered pilot whales from increasing to numbers that are not sustainable, placing them at risk of endangerment.

Has Grindadráp spiralled into unsustainable territory?

Those who think so blame advances in technology for abnormally large catches in recent years.

Historically, wooden boats, oars, and extensive manual labour were required to carry out the tradition which led to naturally smaller number of kills. Today, motorboats and sonar technology have made it much easier to locate and trap entire pods on the shore.

With thousands of dolphins and whales bleeding out on the beach, and international press publishing photos captured from the event online, the tradition has been viewed as extreme in the eyes of outsiders.

But large groups of locals also share the feeling that Grindadráp has become unnecessary for their survival, as very few members of their small 50,000 population continue to consume whale meat today.

Those hunting the whales defend their tradition, reiterating that is it carried out for cultural, not commercial reasons. Sharing meat with members of the community who do consume it is viewed, from their perspective, as sustainable and compliant with Faroe Island’s hunting laws.

It’s a tricky situation, one which blurs the lines between culture, ethics, and sustainability. Whether looming threats to international trade will have any real impact is yet to be realised.


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