Marine biologist, Megan Whittaker, who lives and works in Iceland, sent us the following guest blog based upon her personal thoughts and observations at the scene of the recent pilot whale stranding off Iceland. Readers should be warned of distressing content and graphic images. Here is Megan’s blog.
On the evening of Saturday, 7th September 2013, during a strong storm, about 70 long-finned pilot whales (Globicephala melas) began stranding in the small harbor of Rif and along the northern coast of the Snaefellnes peninsula in the west of Iceland. Sadly, about 20 of these whales either died naturally or were killed by the local community. Some of the whales’ throats were obviously slit; however there is some debate whether this was to stop their suffering or so that the local people could start butchering the animals for their meat – or maybe both. It is Icelandic law that beached whales need to be reported to the police and the relevant authorities be alerted. This did not happen and thus an investigation has begun. Most likely, the locals simply did not know that they had to do this. Still, they wasted no time in cutting their share of the meat.
The next day, Sunday, a few friends and I decided to drive up from Reykjavik to check out the situation. For me, it was a very sad sight for many reasons. Sad that the whales had a very stressful and traumatic end to their life, but mostly because I felt that a lot of the locals seemed to have no respect for the animals that lost their life. If the animals had died naturally and the locals wanted to eat the meat – assuming that they didn’t mind feeding their children meat that could have high levels of PCBs and methyl mercury – but it was this total disrespect that really shocked me.
Children were jumping on the whales’ heads and tails, prodding them with sticks as the parents stood by laughing. One van even ran over a whale, maybe by accident but it looked to be on purpose, with a group of onlookers in hysterics. A very young calf was butchered with blood running down its smiley face.
There was a time when a beached whale was considered a gift from God when food was scarce. Nowadays, most attitudes about consuming whale meat have changed and the practice has become a taboo, yet Iceland still practices traditional ways no matter how many protest it.