Faroese whale hunters defend the pilot whale slaughter by saying that it is a meaningful and indispensable part of their culture. “We’ve been doing this for centuries, it’s part of who we are,” one whaler told me. Another said that the slaughter, to him, provides an opportunity to participate in what he views as an exciting social celebration. “It’s a welcome break from the routine of modern life and what makes me feel truly Faroese,” he added.
Often this culture argument works. Global observers think, “If hunting pilot whales is of cultural importance in the Faroe Islands, then we, as outsiders, certainly have no right to denounce it.” However, just because something has been going on in a society for a long time does not automatically validate its continuation.
There was a time when the people of the Faroe Islands depended on pilot whales to obtain a much-needed source of protein. There is no doubt that the pilot whale hunt, on numerous occasions, saved the inhabitants of these remote islands from starvation. This, however, is no longer the case. Due to the mounting pollution of the world’s oceans, the pilot whales are filled with mercury, PCBs, and other toxins, and their consumption has been linked to serious and irreversible health defects. In 2008, Faroese health officials declared pilot whales unfit for human consumption, yet the hunt has continued.
These pilot whale hunts target entire schools of social and highly intelligent marine mammals, and they end in their slaughter, reducing the pilot whales to piles of meat and blubber that are contaminated with the world’s most hazardous pollutants. The Farose people began this tradition to survive, and now they continue it to satisfy a desire to keep things the way they were in the past despite the consequences.
Modern pilot whale hunts have come to symbolize the reckless wastefulness and greed that are so typical of our times. How can we justify pilot whales, a dolphin species that is already struggling with the immense threat of habitat destruction, being killed as a means of providing Faroese whalers with a sense of national identity?
Some whalers argue that the hunt is not a threat because the pilot whale is not an endangered species. However, this is overlooking the risk of regularly hunting a species without concern for its repopulation, as has happened with many endangered species.
My largest concern with the Faroese pilot whale hunt is that it is a symptom of a larger problem: What world are we leaving for future generations? The amount of contamination found in the pilot whales is proof of our global damage, and the hunt of these creatures is proof of our apathy. At this time in history, when so much wildlife and wilderness have been permanently lost to Planet Earth, the least we can do is, through our example, give our children the tools of empathy, consideration, and conservation to save what is left.