The shocking truth about the Grindadráp

the Faroese whale hunting

Whale hunting is a big issue and it is everywhere on social media and international media. You might have seen some posts, articles or even documentaries about it. And in most cases, one of our favorite destinations of 2016, the Faroe Islands, is making the headlines: “Faroe Island and its gruesome Grindadráp, the whale hunting tradition

If you’re online at least some hours of your life, you already saw in the recent media the huge international circus and worldwide outrage involving the whale hunting by the Faroese population. This ancient practice is known as ‘Grindadráp’.

A lot of those pilot whales are killed almost every year on the shores of the Faroe Islands and the world of horrified by the images of blood-red waters. It is shocking, I’ll give you that. But it is not the whole truth.

The only thing you don’t see out there so often is people trying to explain the whys and the hows. The masses tend to believe and act with violent comments and actions before anything. Even on our posts about the Faroe Islands here on the blog and on our Facebook.

People need to remember that to change something, you first need to fully understand it. There is no way around this.

After arriving at FAE airport this last April, I was determinate to find out the real deal with this. The amount of wrong information out there is unbelievable.

First I will tell you a bit more about myself, just for you to understand why this issue is so important to me.

My name is Marcela Faé (no, I’m not the owner of Faroe Islands’ airport. I wish I was) and I’m 32 years old. When I was 13 or 14 years old punk rocker, I became vegetarian. It was the end of the 90s in Brazil and, if you know just a little bit about Brazil, you know how hard this was. I was without any kind of meat for 15 or 16 years.

In 2010 or 2011 I decided that I wanted to change that but the fact is that for almost half of my life, I was a vegetarian. I started this journey because of animals, of course, but I ended because I felt somewhat hypocrite. I lived in a city, the vegetables I consumed meant less rainforest for the planet, my shoes were made by slave work in Bangladesh, my phone was assembled by a minor in China and the cosmetics I used on my face were, most probably, tested in animals. Long story short I was feeling bad and because of that I stop believing in vegetarianism and started to focus on getting my carbon footprint smaller in a different way.

Second, please keep in mind that I still live in a city that takes forests spaces, fly on airplanes with jet fuel and use plastic that will never disappear. We all do that. We don’t live in hippie communities 100% in harmony with nature – unfortunately. My point here is that we need to see ourselves and our actions under an honesty-lenses before anything. Especially before climbing to a high tower, put a crown and start pointing fingers at others. Get out of there, this is not your crown.

Because of my past, I decided to go to Faroe Island and talk to real people to see the real deal before hating massively on the internet.

Hate speech on social media is the today’s version of the black plague. When you least expect you’re infected and you’re helping it spread to other if you’re not aware. The myths, the propaganda, and this vicious uninformative circle, in this case, is forming an ultra counterproductive campaign to end the whale hunting.

And those who intentionally promote ignorant and uninformative myths are making the whole situation worst. This spread propaganda that only aims to shock, smear and promote hate towards an entire country is worse than the Grindadráp itself.

The Faroese, people, landscape, whale hunting and its culture

The Faroe Islands, as some of you already know, are a small archipelago in the Atlantic between UK, Norway, and Iceland. The Faroe Islands are part of the kingdom of Denmark but they are completely autonomous. This place is one of the most remote places in the world (and in my opinion, one of the most beautiful).

If you pay attention to the photos you see here on this blog post, on our Instagram or just by searching “Faroe Islands” on google, you’ll notice something: there are no trees. Nothing grows on those islands besides some occasional potatoes.

The Faroese people are direct descendants of Vikings and there are super proud of it. Besides surviving 400 years of pirate attacks, the plague, colonial oppression from many foreign powers, having a crazy ass weather that never goes above 20 or 25 Celsius, surviving for centuries on a land where agriculture is a distant dream, wars and more, those people now have to deal with the internet going apeshit on them. Of course, they are a proud country! I would’ve given up on the first month of pirate attacks, ok? And you too. Don’t lie.

Before the Vikings, there was no life in that part of the world. Some occasional migrant birds and basically that’s it. And because of that, as a source of fat and protein, they started with whale hunting.

They row for sport and navigate the ocean on beautiful wooden boats similar to traditional Viking ships, their language has survived all those centuries and it is one of the most beautiful examples of ancient Nordic Viking languages out there and they continue to live largely of the sea, fishing and killing whales as a source of food. Pilot whales have been the key for the survival of the Faroese people for centuries.

Harshly isolated in the middle of the ocean, through misery, failed harvests and supply shortages, the whale hunting was once vital for them. Did you know that during the Second World War, the daily supply ships from Denmark stopped? Leaving thousands of people without food?

Maybe the ability to be self-sufficient is an ability they do not wish to lose. If less than 100 years ago the WWII happened and almost wiped out the entire country, can you be sure this won’t happen again? In a world where political instability in the world’s largest economic powers continues to grow?

Pay attention to this next photo. This is Gásadalur, one of the most amazing places I had the chance to photograph. Pay a closer look to where the city is and where the sea ends. Now pay attention to the absence of crops. The Faroe Islands are largely unfit for agriculture and its landscape do not make it easy for anybody.

Faroese people rely solely on importation as a source for vegetables, fruits, and roots. Non-imported foods over there are only fish, livestock and pilot whales.

whale hunting gasaladur wallpaper faroe island

The Pilot Whale Hunt or Grindadráp

The Grindadráp, or just Grind, is an opportunistic whale hunt which occurs in the Faroe Islands. Does not happen every year, the pilot whales are not in any danger of extinction, it is highly regulated and all the meat is distributed for free to the Faroese community. The Grindadráp will only happen if the pilot whales are spotted by chance.

Different from other practices like Japanese whale hunters do, this is a non-commercial hunt. All the meat stays inside the Faroe Islands.

Besides being a source of food and historically important to them, it is very important in the economic side of it. Since most of the goods come from outside, the prices are very high in the Faroe Islands. Think as an economic relief to the inhabitants that pay a fucking lot for what you usually have for 1 or 2 euros.

The animal welfare legislation of the Faroe Islands has stipulated that all the animals must be killed as quickly and with as little suffering as possible. One of the arguments in one side of this discussion is that all the pilot whales are killed with a special instrument that severs its spinal cord and its major blood supply to the brain. In less than a few seconds the animal loses conscious and dies without pain.

This species of whales, pilot whales,  are far from being endangered and the hunt is recognized as a sustainable practice internationally.

Due to the high levels of heavy metals in the ocean, pilot whale meat consumption in the archipelago is declining. The health risks of ingesting meat contaminated with mercury, DDT derivatives, PCBs made the Department of Public and Occupational Health state that pilot whales are no longer considered fit for humans back in 2008. This sparked much debate amongst locals, the fact is now undisputed.

Rúni Nielsen, a Faroese food science advisor said that this is a good reason why people should stop eating pilot whale meat, but there are always the ones that don’t believe.

Mercury poisoning is often used as a weapon to portray the Faroese as mentally deficient savages on the social media. As awful as it sounds, I’m tired of reading people saying that mercury poison is what the Faroese people deserve. The internet should chill the fuck out and start paying attention to their actions. Remember what I said about people putting on a crown to judge people? Without realizing that if they care about animals, they should take a minute and think about that industrial farming burger they had over the weekend.

My point is, it is nobler to eat the flesh of an animal that lived its whole life free than having meat coming from the inhumane farm animals that exist all over the world.

Beside this point, how can we write such horrible things online while we sit on our comfortable urban apartments, so damn blinded to the fact that the pilot whales we want so much to defend are being poisoned in the oceans? In their own environment! How can we possibly point our dirty fingers and shame Faroese people for animal cruelty when we’re the ones to blame for the mercury out there? For a lifestyle responsible for all the plastic in the oceans, for the smoke in the sky and for the poisoning of land and water?

On my visit to the Faroe Islands I’ve talked to a woman that pointed this out to me. I told that I was a blogger and I wanted to know their side of the story and she said: “We just wonder where the lines go, you know? It is ok to pollute the oceans and poison and slowly kill the all kinds of animals out there but it is not ok to give them a quick death and eat their flesh? Is that it?”

It is hard to find a community more connected to their natural environment than the Faroese. My short trip proved to me that that has a high respect for their nature and all the animals. Animals are treated a lot better there than the majority of the world. Sheep roam the islands freely on their own, free from walls, pilot whales live their entire lives going up and down the ocean… The ultimate definition of free range food. Can you say the same about the chickens and the cows you consume? The porks that are your bacon?

The same girl that made that statement I said earlier, told me also that puffins are her favorite meat. In fact, puffins apparently are the best meat she ever ate. And the last time she had one was almost 10 years ago. Why? Because when the Faroese people realized that their population was going low, they stopped hunting them. They will start again as soon as the number of puffins is growing again

Listen, I’m not denying that animals are slaughtered, killed and eaten over there, ok? I’m just saying that chances are, the people filled with rage against the Faroese community, most probably don’t respect animal life as much as they do.

Another valid point here is that while the consumption of pilot whale meat is declining as we speak, it still represents around 25% of the meat consumption there. And because of that remains economically significant. Just imagine the amount of fish or other smaller animals they would have to catch and kill to substitute all that pilot whale meat.

Hypocrisy from all sides

Personally, this was my main fuel for writing this post. I have a hard time dealing with ignorant bigots that continually approach us with hateful comments about a country they never set foot on.

“Denmark should exterminate those inbred barbarians”, “Mercury poisoning is just karma, I hope they all die”, “Sons of bitches, I hope they rot in hell”, “I didn’t know this blog supports this atrocity, I hope you die too”.

All those are real examples, ok? I’m not making this up. You can see for yourself here, here and here. On my blog and on my social media, those comments are deleted as soon as I see them, so, unfortunately, I cannot show anybody the examples I wrote above.

Those accusatory and aggressive comments and posts are a highly emotional response to the inflammatory articles you can find online.

Articles did by people that dedicate their time to make uninformative posts full of half-truths and bloody images making it difficult to find a solution to this problem. Articles that infuriates a bunch of people that behave like cattle, having exactly the reaction intended, giving clicks and shares (a.k.a. money) and not offering a single useful thing to the real issue. Articles that exist only to make Facebook algorithms see this or that page as relevant. Articles that make people scream loud about how the Faroese community can sleep at night without considering getting to know them to understand their motives.

Make the right questions, not hateful Facebook posts. That is all I’m asking.

Stop clapping your hands for people that go to the Faroe Islands to impose their truth upon the Faroese without even consider sitting down to listen to their side of the story. Listen to what the Faroese have to say, try to understand their way of life. Book a trip there and experience first hand one of my most caring and beautiful environment. Imposing your truths is cultural imperialism. And the world can only regret from actions like that.

Usually, I support the actions of NGO like Sea Shepherd but their presence on the island is awful, imposing and highly counterproductive. They are not helping anyone, they are acting like the warriors of all truth and knowledge (and they are actually spreading lies). And we all know what happens when a group of people acts like that, don’t we?

Besides, Sea Shepherd actions only strengthen the desire of Faroese nationalists to fight harder to preserve their cultural heritage. It only makes people that could possibly be on their side to run to the other.

They make even me, a former vegetarian, want to rally behind the Faroese whalers. Can you imagine their actions on people born in the Faroes?

The Faroe Islands are a wonderful country with some of the most friendly people we’ve seen. It is a country that sees 2 foreigners without Faroese money looking for some water with Euros and failing at it. A country that is so awesome that in less than 10 minutes, 2 random people offered to get us water because – and this was the actual words – “if I went to Brazil and I forgot to exchange my money, I would be happy if a Brazilian offers help”. A country where the owner of a hotel is so kind that gave us a free meal because we found no open banks to exchange euros. And on the next day, he exchanged some Euros to Faroese currency to us even though Euros are not even accepted in Denmark. I mean, he lost money helping us. A country that every single soul we met showed us kindness in a way.

People, stop hating and start understanding.

whale hunting Photo credit: Erik Christensen

The only possible way to end the Grindadráp

Did you know that there are people inside the Faroe Island fighting against the Grindadráp? That you can easily find locals that believe this practice should happen no more?

Were you aware that lots of conservationists do arrive in the archipelago with an open mind and are ready to facilitate talks, open dialogues and increase the awareness of the consequences this tradition has? And everything is done in peace?

There are people shifting the views of some of the Faroese folks on pilot whales. Showing them that sometimes if more profitable to promote whale watching, responsible tourism and other alternatives than to continue with whale hunting. People working directly with local islanders to achieve a common ground in a peaceful way.

And guys, this is how the Grindadráp will end. This is how it is done.

My Conclusion to this delicate and complex matter

To summarize, pilot whales no longer have to be hunted and what was once vital to their survival is now mostly continued as an emotional attachment to their cultural heritage. This is true.

And if you’re pro or con the Faroese Grindadráp exists depends upon many, many different and complex factors. You’ll have to weight an animal life against the loss of cultural tradition. I mean, it is not even a tradition, if you think about it. It is a source of food like fish or cows or pigs.

But one thing needs to happen before you start putting things in your imaginary scale: you need to truly try to understand the issue. You need to know that is fact and what is fiction and stop supporting organizations that just want their way no matter what. After all that, you gotta listen and understand locals before taking action.

If this is an important issue for you, save some money and go to the Faroe Islands. See for yourself how is the life over there. Talk to people, meet some locals, open dialogues and see if you can join some of the local organizations that are trying hard to end the practice of hunting pilot whales.

Given this points, I believe that only after you truly open your heart to understanding something can you try to end it. Only when you see yourself in the other’s shoes, you’ll understand where they’re coming from and how you can try to change their views.

The international hateful pressure will never put a stop to the Grindadráp. Putting a boycott on tourism to the island is not going to help either. The archipelago prospered almost completely isolated from the rest of the world for centuries. Do you really think that by you not going there they will change anything? That by being deprived of your royal presence, they’re going to change their minds on anything? Pffff…

Wake up. An entire country will not change overnight. And you certainly cannot oppress an entire community to obey your will and believe this will help in any way the cause. The only possible way to stop the Grindadráp is to promote education.

Photo credits:
Cover photo is available under CC-BY-SA-3.0 license. Credit:Erik Christensen (see original file). gregoniemeyer Erik Christensen