Every year, the tides of the Faroe Islands turn blood red in a grim tradition that has long outraged animal rights activists.
Yet this week, even those who support what is known as the ‘Grind’ were left sickened by the sight of more than 1,400 dolphin carcasses staining the picturesque coast line.
Hunters in the remote archipelago are said to have slaughtered 1,428 of the animals in the annual festival – the largest ever recorded death toll.
Gory images show scored of white-sided dolphins lined up in the shallows of the Islands’ beaches, lying in water stained red with their blood with deep gashes visible on their bodies.
While hunters have previously dug their feet in over the centuries-old tradition, which dates back to Viking times, this time many admitted they were “appalled” by the scenes.
So why is the ‘Grind’ still going on – and what will the consequences be of the latest massacre?
Hunted on jet skis with hooks, knives and spears
The Grind began in an era when Danish locals were reliant on whale and dolphin meat to survive.
Unlike most regulated hunts, it has no ‘season’ or quota – meaning it can happen at any time at one of 26 designated bays around the islands.
Sea Shepherd / SWNS)
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Whaling is not regulated by the International Whaling Commission because of disagreements over the body’s power to control the cetacean hunts, and instead is governed by Faroese authorities.
In accordance with Faroese law, pilot whales, white-sided dolphins, bottlenose dolphins, white-beaked dolphins and harbour porpoises can be hunted, with the meat and blubber from the animals frequently being used for food.
However, recently health authorities have warned against consumption of pilot whales particularly, because of the high levels of mercury and persistent organic pollutants (POPs) which end up in the meat.
A major study showed the food has impaired islanders’ cognitive function and increased their risk of Parkinson’s disease, reports The Guardian.
When hunters spot groups of dolphins, they can use almost any vehicle at their disposable to drive the pods towards the shore – ranging from fishing boats to jet skis.
At the shore, men wait to kill the animals in the shallows with hooks, knives and spears.
Faroese law states the animals must die quickly and in 2015 the law was updated, with hunters now having to attend a course where they learn how to properly slaughter animals with the spinal cord lance.
However, critics argue that the deaths are often far from merciful.
Whales ‘left thrashing for hours in agony’
The marine conservation group Sea Shepherd says the hunts are “rarely as quick” as the Faroese government makes out, with desperate animals left to watch their relatives die in agony.
“Grindadráp hunts can turn into drawn-out, often disorganised massacres,” says the non-profit.
“The pilot whales and dolphins can be killed over long periods in front of their relatives while beached on sand, rocks or just struggling in shallow water with Faroese boats blocking their escape – until not a single pilot whale or dolphin is left alive.”
Jústines Olsen, the senior veterinarian at the Faroe Veterinary Service, recorded the average killing duration at 12.7 minutes, according to the group, which said it often recorded slaughters taking more than 20 minutes.
Hunters have been slammed by protesters for even slaughtering pregnant mothers, juveniles and weaning calves during the Grind.
In 2010, one particularly grisly hunt occurred off the town of Klaksvik.
Around 228 pilot whales were driven on to a beach large enough only for around 100 whales, with not enough hunters on hand to put the creatures out of their misery.
“The whales were left thrashing around on the beach, on rocks and everywhere in the bay, prolonging the suffering for many whales as their family members were slowly killed over several hours around them,” said Sea Shepherd.
Cambridge University student Alistair Ward photographed the grim scenes at Sandavagu bay in 2018, where he said fishermen prodded whales towards the shores with their oars.
“Once they got close enough, the whole town sprinted in and started hacking at them,” he told Triangle News Agency.
“The squealing from the whales was horrible. They were putting hooks in their blowholes… they didn’t die in a very humane way.”
‘This was a big mistake. We are in shock’
While debate has raged between hunters and activists for years over the gory festival, the slaughter of nearly 1,500 white-sided dolphins this year has united both sides in outrage.
Even locals who have long seen it as a proud tradition took to social media in disbelief, with one Facebook user describing the massacre as “full-on terrible”, adding: “I’m embarrassed to be Faroese.”
Last year, just 35 white-sided dolphins were killed. Speaking to the BBC, Olavur Sjurdarberg, the chairman of the Faroese Whalers Association, admitted this week’s scenes were excessive.
“It was a big mistake,” said Sjurdarberg, who did not join the hunt. “When the pod was found, they estimated it to be only 200 dolphins.”
“Somebody should have known better. Most people are in shock about what happened.”
Heri Petersen, charman of the local Grind hunting association, said he was “appalled” by the scale of the massacre and cruel prolonging of the animals’ deaths.
“The dolphins lay on the beach writhing for far too long before they were killed,” he told the local In.fo news site.
According to the Guardian, one resident also told suggested there was no possible justification for the scale of the massacre, with locals unable to consume the sheer amount of meat.
“My guess is that most of the dolphins will be thrown in the trash or in a hole in the ground,” they said. “We should have quotas per district, and we should not kill dolphins.”
Sea Shepherd says it is hoping for “much tighter restrictions” around the hunts and “at least a ban on the killing of the Atlantic white-sided dolphins”, while PETA has called for an end to the “bloody whale slaughter”.
Panicked dolphins have wounds ‘plugged’
While the annual hunts in the Faeroe Islands have long sickened activists, they are far from isolated scenes.
In 2010, Oscar-winning documentary The Cove shed light on how dolphins were horrifically slaughtered in a small bay in Taiji, Japan.
Viewers were left sickened by scenes of fishermen piercing the spines of thousands of dolphins – before ramming wooden plugs into the wounds to stop the sea turning red.
The wild creatures are lured into the shallows by sounds that confuse them and disrupt their navigational senses, before thrashing around in panic until they eventually exhaust themselves.
The lucky ones who aren’t killed are sold off to marine parks where they will spend the rest of their lives performing for crowds.
Despite widespread international criticism, the Taiji hunt has resumed this month.
Fishermen have caught at least seven bottlenose dolphins so far in a season expected to last until March 2022.
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