On September 12 in the Faroe Islands, a territory of Denmark, more than 1,400 white-faced dolphins were killed by poachers in the shallow waters of Skalabotnur beach in Eysturoy. The incident was denounced by marine conservation group Sea Shepherd as the largest single kill of cetaceans in the islands’ history  . This event had already been denounced before when the documentary Seaspiracy – Red Sea was discussed  .
The practice is part of an ancestral tradition that is more than a thousand years old among the inhabitants of the Faroe Islands. The same was regulated in the oldest law in Faro, dated 1298. The ritual, called grindadráp or grind , is initiated when fishermen or ferries at sea spot dolphins and corner them. Soon after, the dolphins are pushed into a bay, with boats and even jet skis, and pulled ashore with a hook in their vent. Then the spinal cord is cut with a knife  .
According to the Faroese government around 600 pilot whales are caught every year on average. However, white-faced dolphins are caught in smaller numbers, such as 35 in 2020 and 10 in 2019. According to proponents of the practice, hunting marine mammals is a sustainable way of collecting food from nature and a significant part of its cultural identity. However, activists working for the rights of animals, consider the cruel and unnecessary hunt  .
What happened on September 12, 2021 was somewhat different because of the large number of dead animals on Skalabotnur beach, which even shocked many residents, as well as conservation groups. According to Faroese marine biologist Bjarni Mikkelsen, records show that this was the largest number of dolphins ever killed in one day in the territory. The previous record was 1,200 in 1940. The next ones were 900 in 1879, 856 in 1873 and 854 in 1938  .
In 1992, the Faroe Islands Whalers Association was founded, with the aim of explaining and defending traditional whale hunting in the islands. The Association claims that hunting is sustainable, regulated, and that it aims to maintain local tradition. However, the president of the Association, Olavur Sjurdarberg, admitted that in 2021 the amount of hunted animals was excessive. But even so the capture was allowed by the local authorities and no laws were violated, as hunting is regulated in the Islands  .
In contrast, the Sea Shepherd group points out that this was not only the largest single dolphin hunt in Faroese history, but possibly the entire world. They have been fighting the “grind” since the 1980s, denouncing the practice as unsustainable and cruel. Furthermore, it has been raised that many hunters violated several Faroese laws that regulate the activity. For example, many participants were unlicensed, which is required in the Faroe Islands as they have specific training on how to quickly kill dolphins. In addition, some dolphins were run over by motor boats, which is not part of the practice regulated by law. The images show that many of the dolphins were still alive and moving, even after being thrown ashore .
According to Rob Read, CEO of Sea Shepherd UK, “It is outrageous that this hunt takes place in 2021 in a very wealthy European island community, just 230 miles from the UK, with no need or use for such a large amount of meat contaminated”. In agreement Captain Alex Cornelissen, Sea Shepherd’s global CEO , added that “considering the times we live in, with a global pandemic and the world coming to a halt, it is absolutely astounding to see an attack on nature on this scale in the Faroe Islands,” he said. “If we learn anything from this pandemic, it is that we have to live in harmony with nature, rather than eliminate it”  .
The images of caca shared worldwide have generated commotion and protests around the world. In response, Prime Minister Bárdur á Steig Nielsen, announced that “the government has decided to implement an assessment of the regulation of the capture of Atlantic white-sided dolphins”  .
This move by the prime minister is expected to generate stricter rules regarding these fighters. Furthermore, it would also be desirable for the European Union to adopt a prohibitive position, especially considering that the depletion or extinction of these animals will have repercussions beyond the marine biodiversity of the Faroe Islands.
By Rayanne Reis Rêgo Cutrim , intern at the Brazilian Institute for the Law of the Sea (IBDMAR), under the supervision of Doctoral Student Luciana Coelho.
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