All the dirty horrors of the Grindadráp

Despite the official data, many environmental groups argue that hunting is a serious threat to the pilot whale population, because they believe the data on the total number of these animals is unreliable

by Lorenzo Ciotti
All the dirty horrors of the Grindadráp

The grindadráp is the hunting of cetaceans in the Faroe Islands. This activity has been approved by the Faroese authorities but not by the International Whaling Commission. About 950 pilot whales are killed each year, many of them during the summer.

More rarely, species such as bottlenose whales and Atlantic white-hipped dolphins are hunted. Whaling is not a commercial activity and anyone can participate. Initially the whalers hunted them aboard boats arranged in the water in a circular position.

Today the boats are arranged scattered in the bays or in the fjords. According to the IUCN list of threatened species, North Atlantic pilot whales are not threatened. Per IUCN 778,000 whales were found in the North Atlantic Ocean in 1992.

Pro-whaling associations, such as the North Atlantic Marine Commission on Mammals, believe that whaling is a tradition not to be missed. From 1997 to 1999, 956 whales per year were killed, thus just over 0.1% of the total population.

Despite the official data, many environmental groups argue that hunting is a serious threat to the pilot whale population, because they believe the data on the total number of these animals is unreliable. In support of this thesis, now widely recognized, there is evidence that almost only dolphins were killed.

Most of the Faroese consider this hunt important: in fact, being a very old tradition, the inhabitants think it should be maintained. Despite everything, many communities fight for the protection of these marine mammals. There are 17 towns and villages on the Faroe Islands that are capable of hosting good whaling, and are therefore legal for this activity.

These are Bøur, Fámjin, Fuglafjørður, Syðrugøta, Húsavík, Hvalba, Hvalvík, Hvannasund, Klaksvík, Miðvágur, Norðskáli, Sandavágur, Sandur, Tórshavn, Tvøroyri, Vágur and Vestmanna.

These cities are some of the biggest places where whales are killed according to statistics that began in 1854 and continue to this day. On June 4, 1907, the Danish Parliament drafted a law to prevent the extinction of whales.

In the following years, these laws lost importance, but in 1932 the first rule in the Faroe Islands on the protection of whales was established. After this event, every part of whaling was adapted according to the laws. This not only resulted in fewer whales being killed, but also helped preserve the tradition of a time when not many whales could be hunted due to lack of technology.

The regulation includes the use of ancient clothes, which however are uncomfortable and inappropriate. Before the 1948 law was enacted, the Danish Parliament had responsibility for the supervision of whales in the Faroe Islands.

Today, supervision is the responsibility of the Faroese government. The government is responsible for ensuring that the regulations and provisions relating to the hunting of pilot whales are complied with. In practice, each hunt takes place under the supervision of a local legislator who is responsible for the preparation, actual hunting and distribution of the catch.

The constituent elements of whaling are hooks, ropes, and instruments for measuring whales. A boat equipped in this way is certainly reserved for this activity. The whaling boat is not like the traditional small Faroese boat, nor is it a large vehicle like those reserved for the coast guard, and they do not contain modern machinery.

The whaling boat is simply described as a small boat, which is also used for the processing of fish. After stranding the cetaceans on the beach, the hunters cut the back of the prey at the spine with a special knife, called in the Faroese language grindaknívur.

Under the circumstances, this knife is considered the best way to kill a whale, because it kills it right away without making it suffer for as long. Of course, even with this method, death is not instantaneous. After cutting the whale, it may still be alive within seconds or minutes.

When cutting into a whale's backbone, their major arteries are severed. This causes the surrounding sea to turn blood red. This causes much controversy and criticism from groups for the protection of cetaceans.