Whale and dolphin hunts in the Faroe Islands

Every year in the Faroe Islands, a territory of Denmark, hundreds of pilot whales and other species including bottlenose dolphins, Atlantic white-sided dolphins and northern bottlenose whales, are hunted for their meat. The techniques used are intensely stressful and cruel. Entire family groups are rounded up out at sea by small motor boats and driven to the shore. Typically, once they are stranded in shallow water, blunt-ended metal hooks are inserted into their blowholes and used to drag the whales up the beach, where they are killed with a knife cut to their major blood vessels.

In recent years our campaigning against the hunt has taken a lower profile in the belief that overt and vociferous public pressure has only encouraged the hunts to continue and actually increase in response to public outcry. However, our more recent engagement with communities and authorities in the Faroe Islands has shown some potentially promising ways forward as we continue to seek solutions through a better understanding of these practices, and engagement with likeminded grassroots coalitions in the Faroe Islands. No level of hunting is acceptable to WDC, and we continue to seek new ways to stop this practice.

What is WDC doing about the Faroese whale hunt?

WDC has been actively trying to stop this hunt, and also to prevent the Faroe Islands from resuming commercial whaling and international trade in whale meat. We will not pretend that our task is simple. Whaling is a long tradition of this remote and proud community that is proving hard to change. But traditions evolve over time and, rest assured, WDC will not give up until drive hunting is consigned to the history books in the Faroe Islands, and its children can eat safely.

On August 2nd 2010, a group of environmental and animal welfare organizations, including WDC, released a statement on the Faroese hunt. Read the statement in full.

Whale meat is heavily contaminated

Pilot whales in this region - the main species targeted - carry high levels of mercury and persistent organic compounds in their meat and blubber. Long term independent studies of children in the Faroe Islands have directly linked neurological delays, cardiovascular problems and other development problems to their mothers pre-natal consumption of whale meat. In addition, recent studies have shown a direct link between the occurrence of Parkinsons disease in Faroese adults and eating pilot whale meat. Despite this, the hunts and consumption continues.

The Faroese authorities first issued an advisory notice almost ten years ago, warning certain vulnerable consumers (such as pregnant and nursing women) to eat less whale meat, but a whole new generation has matured since then and we are concerned that new mothers today might not be aware of this recommendation. We are working to change that.

Progress is painfully slow. For example it was only in 2008, years after medical officers advised people to cut consumption of whale meat, that the Health Minister stopped whale meat being offered in hospitals.  

Furthermore the long-term research undertaken by Danish and Faroese scientists has revealed that consumption of pilot whale meat and blubber has detrimental effects on the development of foetal nervous and immune systems, and increases the risk of Parkinson’s disease, hypertension and arteriosclerosis of the carotid arteries in adults.

In response to these findings, on 8th 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 Faroese Government of the Faroe Islands had failed to adopt this recommendation.  Dietary recommendations on the consumption of pilot whale meat and blubber were updated in June 2011 and advise one meal (250 grams of meat, and 50 grams of blubber) per month.  Special recommendations have been advised for girls and women to avoid whale blubber as long as they are planning to have children. 

In 2012, Pál Weihe and Høgni Debes Joensen of the Faroese Department of Occupational Medicine and Public Health formally recommended that from a human health perspective, pilot whale should no longer used for human consumption.

In 2012, WDC and a number non-governmental organisations issued a statement addressing human health and the Faroese hunt.

We now await the reaction of the Faroese Government and the Faroese people.

Additional concerns    

The Faroe Islands drive hunt is not subject to international control as it targets small species of whales (mainly pilot whales and some dolphin species) that the International Whaling Commission (IWC

) does not currently manage. As the Faroe Islands are not members of the European Union, they are not subject to European legislation that forbids whale hunting. Unfortunately therefore, there are no legal mechanisms currently available to prevent the hunt.

Although one regional whale management body has given scientific advice suggesting that the hunts are sustainable, the body is comprised of only whaling nations, which is likely to bias its findings. However, even that organisation has recognised that pilot whales are impacted by human activities such as fishing and pollution, which could well affect the long term health of populations.  The population status for some of the species killed in the Faroe Islands drive hunts remain under debate, as biases in survey data have hampered attempts to make accurate abundance estimates.

While most public attention has been focused on the takes of the larger pilot whales, the data provided by the Faroes government shows that dolphins are also being targeted; more than 3200 of these smaller cetaceans have been killed since 1999.

The Faroese also maintain their right to resume commercial whaling if the IWC ever sanctions the granting of quotas.

Whale meat on sale in Faroe Islands

What can you do?

If you want to sign a petition, there are several reputable on-line petition sites that you can visit, such as The Petition Site. These petitions can, if millions of signatures are generated and hand-delivered to the proper authorities, have an impact. But what we have found is that government officials pay much more attention to letters or faxes.

Please send a politely worded letter to the Faroese government and (copy it to the Danish Foreign Ministry) to express your concerns about this hunt. The addresses are provided below. Please make the time to mail a letter, or send a fax, as it has more impact than an email.

Office of the Faroese Government
Kaj Leo Holm Johannesen
Prime Minister
Tinganes
Post Box 64
Torshavn
FR 110
Faroe Islands

Tel. +298 306000         
Fax +298 306015

Minister of Foreign Affairs of Denmark
Villy Søvndal
2, Asiatisk Plads
DK-1448 Copenhagen K
Denmark
Tel. +45 33 92 00 00  
Fax +45 32 54 05 33
E-mail udenrigsministeren@um.dk