Small Cetacean Hunts in the Faroe Islands

Situated between Scotland and Iceland in the North Atlantic Ocean, the Faroe Islands are a self-governing territory of the Kingdom of Denmark. Opportunistic whaling on pilot whales and Risso’s dolphins has taken place in the Faroe Islands for centuries, with the meat from the hunts being distributed among the islands’ inhabitants.

When a pod of whales - sometimes numbering over 100 individuals or more - is spotted, it is driven ashore using boats. Once close to shore, the animals are secured by steel hooks driven into the body or by inserting a round-ended hook or "gaff" into the sensitive blow hole. The animals are then hauled to land by ropes attached to the hooks. Once beached, they are finally killed with knives, which slice through the spinal cord and carotid artery.

The hunting and killing of pilot whales and other small cetaceans in the Faroe Islands once satisfied a subsistence need. Today the Faroe Islanders enjoy a modern, developed society, whose standard of living equates to that of other Northern European societies.

Similar to the dolphin drive hunt meat consumed in Japan, pilot whales have been found to be highly contaminated in recent years with pollutants. Danish and Faroese scientists have warned that consuming pilot whale meat and blubber has detrimental effects on the development of fetal nervous and immune systems, and increases the risk of Parkinson's disease, hypertension and arteriosclerosis of the carotid arteries in adults.

In August 2008, the Faroe Islands' Chief Medical Officer and Chief Physician wrote an open letter to the Government stating that "pilot whales today contain contaminants to a degree that neither meat nor blubber would comply with current limits for acceptable concentrations of toxic contaminants..." They further stated, "[I]t is recommended that pilot whale is no longer used for human consumption."

The Government of the Faroe Islands has failed to adopt this recommendation. The number of pilot whales killed in 2010 was almost twice the number killed in 2009. The estimated yield from these hunts is more than 200 tons of meat and more than 100 tons of blubber. With a population of 48,760, this equates to an astonishing 13 pounds of whale per person, including children and babies - an amount far in excess of the maximum one pilot whale meal per month recommended by the Faroese government.