Changes to the Faroe Islands Whale Hunt

Written by on August 21, 2013 in Policy & Ocean Law, Whales & Dolphins

Every year, whalers in the Faroe Islands, a territory of Denmark, kill hundreds of pilot whales along with other species including bottlenose dolphins and Atlantic white-sided dolphins. The whales are hunted much like dolphins are in Japan’s infamous cove–herded into enclosed areas or up beaches and then killed primarily for their meat.

Grind in August 2012.

Grind in August 2012. Photo credit: EileenSanda.

The hunt is an annual tradition dating back more than 1,000 years. It is not regulated because it targets smaller species that the International Whaling Commission (IWC) does not manage. It is also not illegal because the Faroe Islands are not members of the European Union so they are not part of any anti-whaling legislation.

The first hunt this year took place on July 21 and since then, 1,085 whales and dolphins have been killed. This is higher than the average but there are at least 750,000 pilot whales in the North Atlantic so their population is not in danger.

So why are so many people working to put an end to it?

For conservationists, it’s about the cruelty of the hunting and killing methods (which I won’t detail here–if you want more information, check out this post). For others, it’s about the safety of the people. Pilot whale meat is heavily contaminated with mercury and persistent organic compounds and is therefore not very safe to eat. The problem is that Faroese physicians haven’t warned against the consumption of pilot whale meat in five years so many people don’t know how bad it is.

Potential changes in the regulation may impact the success and longevity of the hunt in the near future.

The Minister of Fisheries Jacob Vestergaard recently proposed new regulations that would require all Faroese pilot whale hunters to undergo training in “proper killing techniques.” Hunters who completed the training would receive a license allowing them to participate in the hunt. If accepted, the new rule will take effect on May 1, 2015, leaving time for only one more unregulated hunting season.

Some conservation groups worry that this proposed rule is simply a political move to silence the opposition. They are concerned that the hunt will be able to continue because it is being conducted by people who are experts in proper killing procedures and will therefore be considered humane.

Others, however, believe that many of the hunters participate for the thrill of the hunt and because those people are not hunters or fishers by profession, they are unlikely to go through the training process which would make the hunt much smaller.

We’ll keep you posted as the hunt continues and the decision is made.

Pilot whale.

Pilot whale. Photo credit: Mr Moss via photopin cc.

Copyright © 2013 by Marine Science Today, a publication of Marine Science Today LLC.

About the Author

About the Author: Emily Tripp is the Publisher and Editor of She holds marine science and biology degrees from the University of Miami's Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science and a Master of Advanced Studies degree in Marine Biodiversity and Conservation from Scripps Institution of Oceanography. When she's not writing about marine science, she's probably running around outside or playing with her dog. .


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