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Over 1,400 dolphins killed in Faroe Islands hunt, sparking new anger at old tradition

Dolphin hunting is an ancient practice in the Faroe Islands.

But the tradition is under renewed scrutiny after more than 1,400 aquatic mammals were killed on Sunday in a record-breaking massacre that sparked an uproar among local residents and global environmental groups.

Hunting in the North Atlantic Islands is not carried out for commercial purposes and is authorized by the government, but even those who support the practice have expressed concern that this year’s event may prompt further scrutiny. thorough.

The 18 rocky islands, located halfway between Scotland and Iceland, are semi-independent and are part of the Danish Kingdom.Sea Shepherd / via AP

For hundreds of years, the inhabitants of the Faroe Islands have participated in the annual hunting tradition, known as “grind”, or grindadráp in Faroese. He sees pilot whales, the second largest dolphin species after orcas, and other dolphins surrounded in fjords before being stabbed to death.

The remote island lore was introduced to global audiences in the Netflix documentary “Seaspiracy” earlier this year.

According to the Faroe Islands government, the practice is “fully regulated” and considered “sustainable”, with around 600 pilot whales and 250 white-sided dolphins captured on average each year over the past two decades.

Sunday’s catches exceeded that average, however, with the Seattle-based Sea Shepherd Conservation Society estimating that at least 1,428 white-sided dolphins were killed in what the organization called a “cruel and unnecessary hunt.”

“Considering the times we live in, with a global pandemic and the world coming to a halt, it is absolutely appalling to see an attack on nature of this magnitude in the Faroe Islands,” said Alex Cornelissen, CEO of Sea Shepherd Global, in a statement. .

“If we have learned anything from this pandemic, it is that we must live in harmony with nature instead of destroying it.”

The animal rights organization People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, or PETA, has long called for an end to the “bloody whale slaughter” on the Faroe Islands.

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Bjarni Mikkelsen, a marine biologist from the Faroe Islands, said the capture represented the largest number of dolphins killed in a single day on the islands. Before that, he said the highest number was 1,200 in 1940.

Traditionally, he said, the grindadráp is “very well organized and when the ride takes place there are enough people on the beach that it is very rare for a harvest to last longer than 10 minutes.”

On Sunday, he said, the massacre lasted just under an hour, sparking disturbing scenes on the shore that shook local residents.

He said he believed the hunters were unprepared for the considerably large school of white-sided dolphins they encountered, with Faroese hunts generally focusing on pilot whales, which are larger and therefore provide more food. meat.

Páll Nolsøe, spokesman for the Faroe Islands Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Culture, admitted Sunday’s catches were “exceptionally large”. And, he said on Wednesday, “there is no doubt that whaling is a dramatic sight for people who are new to hunts.”

However, he maintained that even Sunday’s catches would be considered sustainable by the Faroese government, with the practice of the hunt helping to support communities through local means.

“It is very important to understand that the basis of whaling in the Faroe Islands is to provide food,” he said. “The meat is distributed among the participants … and also to the local communities.”

Further, he noted that whaling has taken place in the Faroe Islands “since the Viking Age”, so “grinding” is considered by many to be an important part of cultural identity and heritage. of the Faroe Islands.

Mikkelsen said “all the meat” for Sunday’s trip had been distributed to local communities in the Faroe Islands. “It’s at least a positive thing,” he said.

However, he said he believed the weekend’s incident at the very least highlighted the need for regulations regarding the number of dolphins that can be killed each year, as well as on a single trip.

Nolsøe said that although those involved in the grinding are required to obtain permission from local authorities and are subject to animal welfare regulations requiring animals to be killed “as quickly and efficiently as possible” , there are currently no rules in place regarding how many dolphins can be shot.

As the fallout from Sunday’s hunt continues, he said, that could soon be the subject of discussion.

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