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How we need to support Faroese communities to end the whale and dolphin hunts

Hayley is WDC's engagement officer, specialising in creating brilliant content for our website and publications.

Change is in the air as people wake up to the reality that our planet and the species we share it with cannot be treated as endless resources. This awakening has taken root in Iceland, where a majority now opposes whaling. Our goal is to extend this growing appreciation of whales and dolphins to the Faroe Islands, where a centuries-old culture of hunting pilot whales persists.

The pilot whale hunt, known as the grindadráp, or grind, is a deeply-rooted tradition in the Faroe Islands. It’s been happening for more than 1,200 years, and today involves the hunting and killing of more than 900 pilot whales each year and an enormous majority of 81% of Faroese people support the pilot whale grind.

The grind is entirely embedded in the Faroese identity and sense of community, so much so that no amount of foreign outrage will change things.

Just as some people see cows, sheep, pigs and chicken as ‘food animals’, centuries of Faroese people eating pilot whales means whales are viewed in the same way. Pilot whales, who live long, wild lives in the ocean, are compared to ‘free range’ meat, and so hunting and eating them is believed to be more sustainable and natural than factory farming.

Farroese child sitting on slaughtered pilot whale
More than 20,000 dolphins and small whales have been killed over the last 20 years.

But public opinion in the Faroes has undergone a significant shift. The largest dolphin hunt on record took place on 12 September 2021, resulting in the killing of 1,400 Atlantic white-sided dolphins and around 70% of the Faroese population said that they oppose dolphin hunting, a noteworthy development.

Atlantic white-sided dolphin slaughtered on beach
Dolphins are not seen as being a ‘traditional hunt’ and the majority of Faroese people want them to end.

So here's the challenge. While more people are against dolphin hunting, the way people view pilot whale hunts has not changed much. As long as pilot whales are seen primarily as a food source, it's tough to expect meaningful changes.

Pilot whale meat was once a crucial source of food. Today, it is contaminated with heavy metals and POPs, rendering it unfit for consumption, with even the Faroese Health Authority recommending that people eat it no more than once a month. The tide is turning against the killing and consumption of whales and dolphins, and our mission is to nurture this growing movement.

Pilot whale pod underwater

Can you help support Faroese people to end the hunts?

How do we end the hunts?

The thought of these intelligent, sentient whales being hunted and then killed inhumanely is hard to stomach. However, it is essential to recognize that condemnation from outsiders often backfires, unifying the hunting community and entrenching age-old traditions. We’ve learned from decades of experience in the Faroes, Japan, Norway, and Iceland that this approach doesn’t work. Real change will only come from within. Having witnessed positive shifts in attitudes towards whale conservation in countries where whaling was once common, we believe we can consign hunting to history. While this won't be a quick fix, influencing hearts and minds will work in the long run. Our long-running campaign in Iceland helped to get whaling temporarily suspended on animal welfare grounds and the majority of Icelanders now oppose the fin whale hunts. Imagine if we could repeat this progress in the Faroe Islands.

WDC standing in solidarity with Icelandic anti-whalers in Reykjavik
Luke McMillan from WDC joins peaceful protest in Iceland.

Collective action can lead to meaningful change; we've seen it in Iceland, and the same can happen in the Faroes.

Connection, then protection

Our goal is to grow an appreciation and understanding of whales and dolphins in the Faroe Islands. We believe that this will lead to an emotional connection, followed by a desire to nurture and protect these magnificent beings. Taking inspiration from pilot whales themselves - socially bonded and empathetic beings, embodying 'we' rather than 'I' – they teach us a vital lesson, that as a global pod, we must unite, not divide. That’s why our mission is to support local passion and grassroots activism and help nurture a community of people who love and value whales as amazing, intelligent, sentient, emotional beings who are crucial to the health of marine ecosystems and ultimately to human survival.

Pilot whale
Whales are our allies in fighting the climate crisis, we must protect them.

Our ambition is that individuals and communities on the Faroe Islands will embark on this journey of discovery, and one day see themselves as proud guardians of the magnificent whales and dolphins who live around their beautiful island home.

Pilot whales underwater
It’s vital that we continue to inspire Faroese people while recognising their unique traditions and culture.

Empowering local efforts

We invite you to join our movement, to #BeMorePilot whale, and help spread positive information about the vital role of whales and dolphins as climate giants. Your support in changing the hearts and minds of Faroese communities is crucial. Together, we can create a world where the inhumane grind is no longer seen as acceptable, and whales and dolphins are safe and free from harm.

Please help us today with a donation

If you are able to help, every gift, whether large or small, will help us stop whaling in the Faroes.