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The Islands of Bird Hunters

 Swiss journalist Hans Peter Roth shares his thoughts about his current trip to the Faroe Islands. As he continues his collaboration with WDC, we welcome his perspectives and outreach in the Islands.

It´s good to be back! My fourth trip to the Faroe Islands has started off very intense and informative. The people are friendly and open as always. And the fact that this year until today – the longest day of the year (it doesn´t get dark here at all) – no drive hunt has taken place, pleases me a lot. The people of the Faroe Islands – predominantly the men – are well known for their drive hunts, where they use an Armad of boats and yachts to drive pilot whales onto beaches around the Faroes. Then, the animals are being slaughtered and the meat is distributed to the local inhabitants of the islands. An outdated custom which the Faroese people cling to and the majority still views as acceptable.

I am here to extend my network with the locals and to find – together with the locals who are against the pilot whale drive hunt, locally known as the “Grind” – solutions how to speed up the process of ending this unnecessary practice that survives under the cover of tradition.

A lot of the Faroese people are also bird hunters. Through the centuries the early settlers and their descendants had to make a living by fishing, hunting pilot whales, raise sheep and hunting birds. There wasn´t much else for them to eat and vegetables and fruit were hard to come by. Life on the islands was tough. Though the situation has changed significantly over the last decades, knowledge about this old way of life is still deeply anchored in the Faroese culture. This is a fact which shouldn´t be underestimated when visiting this small island nation.

Something I had never heard of until now is the fact that besides the Faroese people there is one other bird-hunting species around these islands. Orca! The inhabitants of one of the small islands, Suðuroy, have repeatedly seen Orca lie in wait very close to the rocky coastline and then suddenly leap out of the water to snatch an unsuspecting Eider Duck or Shag off the rocks. For this reason the Orca is also called the “Eider-Whale” by the locals. That was a real surprise to me. So far I had only heard of Orca catching Sea lions this way.   I learned this amazing fact from the people of “Faroe Islands Whale Watch.” They run a visitors centre in Torshavn, the capital of the Faroes, which opened this summer and has been greeted with considerable interest by the locals. The focus of the centre and the work of “Faroe Islands Whale Watch” is the photoidentification of the Orca around the Faroe Islands.