Whaling in the Faroe Islands – Both Sides of the Story

After visiting the Faroe Islands last month I was targeted on social media by people who condemned me for going to a country that continues to kill whales. They were angry, and they were angry with me and everyone else on the island because somehow being there as a visitor showed an allegiance with the ‘enemy’.

Though I disagree with this kind of guilty-by-association reaction, I tried to understand their point of view. Being a reasonable person who always attempts to look at both sides of the story from a completely objective point of view, I had to ask myself – was it wrong of me to go to the Faroes? And was I a deserving recipient of hate-speech?

This is my response

Most of the negative comments I received were on Twitter, a platform that gives people 140 characters to express themselves, and whilst Ernest Hemingway might have been able to do it, I’m not Hemingway. I tried to craft a thoughtful response to engage in some kind of reflective dialogue but it turned out to be absolutely futile.

These people cannot be reasoned with because they have no intention of seeing different perspectives or even trying to understand the bigger picture. A large proportion seemingly enjoy attacking different ways of life if they don’t conform to their own view of the world, and there’s little chance of turning the mirror on themselves before spewing out the vitriol.

The majority of comments protesting against the Faroes can be seen resorting simply to name-calling. I don’t think I’ve read one comment that says, ‘How can we change this?’ or ‘How can we find a solution that also benefits Faroese people?’ Instead I’ve read words like ‘incest’, ‘murderers’ and ‘boycott’ time and time again. In practice, I don’t think boycotting a country is the solution for sustainable change, and using hateful language will never inspire cooperation, it will only build more fences.

Whaling, Grindadrap

Reactions like this are fuelled by propaganda, and whilst it’s true that whales are killed in a term known as Grindadrap, much of what I’ve read has been falsified or exaggerated. Many comments describe Faroese children being forced to watch or detail the pleasure gained from killing like they are some kind of bloodthirsty monsters rampaging through the island with knives. But because the images that go alongside these comments are very shocking, people believe and propagate these false claims instead of trying to put whaling into a social context.

Grindadrap propaganda

The only sensible and justifiable response to whaling which presents an argument against it, is the high level of mercury present in the mammals that have recently come to light. But what you will find on social media is a barrage of comments using these findings as proof that the Faroese do not eat whale and kill for the sheer enjoyment. Now this is completely false. In spite of the mercury content, the Faroese do eat whale, however have been advised to do so in moderation. For thousands of years before the health warnings, whale has been a part of their staple diet and is an extremely sustainable source of food, particularly as it can be dried and salted for the winter months when resources are limited and food needs to be stored.

Another reason in favour of stopping Grindadrap would be if research found a decline in the ocean’s ecosystem as a result, but the whaling in the Faroes adheres to strict rules which take into consideration the importance of biodiversity.

The images of the whale hunt are undoubtedly shocking as we witness the sea turning scarlet red, nobody can deny that, but what do you think the inside of an abattoir looks like? If that’s the case, I have to ask, are these people protesting to end whaling or are they really protesting for make-shift abattoirs on the beach to conceal what’s really going on? We must look beyond the blood and look at all the facts.

Grindadrap, Whaling, Faroes

I have absolutely no problem with people campaigning against it, but anyone with an ounce of intelligence wouldn’t truly think using hate-speech is going to be the way forward. You can’t fight fire with fire.

And those who truly advocate change would not waste their energy attacking someone for simply treading on Faroese soil. Using the same logic, it’s like shouting at someone for being in China during the Yulin dog festival or Spain for the Running of the Bulls but playing absolutely no part in it. That would be absurd wouldn’t it? Apparently not if you’re in the Faroes.

It’s easier to attack a small country with a small population and a way of life very few people have experienced and can’t therefore connect to.

Life on the Faroe Islands

48, 000 people live across the 18 islands that make up the Faroes, located in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean. Completely exposed to the elements, winter storms can rage for prolonged periods, cutting off some of the smaller islands for days. With very little tourism, the economy is entirely dependent on fishing, with salmon accounting for 95% of total exports and nearly half of the Faroese gross product. Importantly to know, they do NOT export whale, and the only species they eat is the pilot whale, which is NOT endangered and entirely legal contrary to what others say…


Living in a climate with similar conditions to the Arctic, often too harsh for animals and plants to survive, inhabitants have to be a lot more resourceful and historically the consumption of whale meat has played a valued part in their survival. With this in mind, should eating whale in the Faroes be met with such worldwide criticism?

There is a clear and reasonable purpose for their hunt – food – but whether or not we believe they need to eat whale in this day and age is another question. Whilst I would argue yes (and I say this as a non-meat eater) because of the island’s lack of natural resources and its sustainability, others argue no. I find this debate really difficult to have with people who eat other forms of meat including cow, sheep and chicken, because are we therefore saying it is ok to eat one animal but not another – unless we are talking about endangered species, which we are not, how can we justify the killing of one animal over another?

Whaling debate

Hopefully she hasn’t been to France…

If more of us stop to think about our own relationship with the meat industry, we might fall silent to the overbearing sound of our own hypocrisy.

The meat industry kills over 56 BILLION animals every year, and if we write that down the number looks even more shocking, 56,000,000,000, especially if we put it next to the number of whales killed in the Faroes every year – 800.

Most of us live in countries where plants and vegetables grow in abundance and as a result we do not need to eat meat yet most of us do. Worse still, most of us do little or no research to know where our meat comes from. Most are factory farmed livestock with zero freedom from the day they are born, yet the whales consumed by the Faroese live in the wild up until their death. You don’t need me to point out which one is the more humane existence of the two.

Other countries also carry out whaling but they have received only a miniscule of the criticism the Faroese have received, this shows how much we like to pick on the ‘small guy’. And where other countries, in particular Japan, make money from selling it, the Faroese divide it locally between each other for free, similar to like they do in Greenland after a hunt. A few small grocery stores might sell the blubber but I never saw it once on a restaurant menu, like I have in Iceland, Norway and Japan. It’s quite ironic that whilst I was in Japan last March for a longer period of time, nobody brought up the issue of whaling with me, and if they had I would have said I’m against it too.

Onto Bigger Issues

Whaling is not a means of bringing people in for tourism, and contrary to popular believe it is not an annual festival unlike the Running of the Bulls. Travel companies support this festival and bullfighting resulting in a SLOW death by sending thousands of people to Spain and Mexico for people’s entertainment. It’s a huge moneymaking business – now how can people target all their rage at a small community in the middle of nowhere when they could actually be campaigning against corporations earning millions by promoting animal cruelty, and it’s happening on their doorstep – they have the perfect opportunity right there to make an impact!

But no, they don’t. They hide behind their computers, usually appearing as an animated favicon and show hostility to people who they believe are doing wrong in the world. The people who DO make a true impact don’t have time to troll people, they are out protesting, gaining momentum, using their voices to fight the true criminals for true causes, and many of these people put their own freedom at risk. These people are the unsung heroes that I’m going to listen to, I wouldn’t for a second give the time or day to someone who hasn’t even bothered to do research on what exactly it is that enrages them.

A few people who are alive and some who are sadly not with us, use the power of speech to fight against worthy causes include Aaron Schwartz, Malala Yousafzai, Rosa Parks, George Monbiot, Aung San Suu Kyi, Arctic 30, Nadezhda Tolokonnikova and Nelson Mandela to name just a few. They have campaigned for race, gender and sexual equality to freedom of speech, and from climate change awareness to access to free education. They recognise what needs to be done to progress society oppressed by the powers that be.

Sustainable whaling should be waaaaaayyyyy down on the scale of issues that should be called for change. And as a result of masses of people focusing on this issue, it means real atrocities get ignored. Over a thousand Indians died working in a factory sweat shop that collapsed to the ground killing everyone inside, yet people will still buy clothes from the companies who employ slave labor under unsafe working conditions.

If we really cared, we’d boycott these companies but most of us don’t, or better still, we’d protest for them to pay their workers in India and China real living wages. But with the cost of production increasing, this means we’d have to dig further into our pockets to buy our clothes so we better keep quiet.

We will carry on eating from McDonald’s. We will use cosmetics tested on animals because our vanity is greater than our conscience. We will buy everything as cheaply as possible. We will turn up the heating and blast on the air con. We will continue to use as much plastic as possible and forget about recycling. We will watch the rich grow richer and the poor grow poorer. Politicians will continue to deny climate change exists and we’ll be happy to accept it because why walk when we can take the car, and why separate our rubbish when we can dump it into one big plastic bag?

But we will continue to hate the Faroe Islands because it makes us feel better for our own grotesquely lazy actions. We could do so much to make this whole world a better, safer, more loving, understanding, and connected world yet we choose to ignore the things we can control, and play a part in changing.

The great thing about the Faroes is that they (the haters) don’t have to change their lifestyle whatsoever to make them feel like they’re making a difference by uploading a picture of slaughtered whales, an action that takes a fraction of a minute to do.

How can we really make a difference?

If we think for more than a second, what can we ask the Faroe Islanders do?

Firstly we have to understand their way of life, only then can we expect any kind of respectful cooperation to happen. This doesn’t happen over night, but nothing sustainable ever does. It takes time, effort and patience. It looks hopeful if tourism grows, the opportunity for whale-watching tours can develop. It happened in Iceland so it can happen in the Faroes.

This is how progress happens; it’s about education and finding a balance that still helps the local community and provides new skills and other sources of income.

We can do it.

(Top picture taken from Spectator article: Why we should let Faroe Islanders hunt whales).

What are your thoughts?

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