This is a story about one of the most interesting and eye opening experiences I have ever had. Until this day, I do not entirely know how I feel about it; but I know that I came out of this situation with a lot more knowledge and insight than I did before. I am sure many of you have come across those gruesome videos of people slaying dolphins and whales by the dozens… hundreds even; well I was about to witness it all live. This post will contain pictures that may upset some people so please do not read on if you are squeamish. At the end of the day, these things are happening and we need to understand the complete story before judging or attacking anyone. I will try my best to give their side of the story without sounding biased (to either side).
During the drive back from Vidareidi to Kalksvik, I spotted around 10-15 boats in the distance following a pod of what looked like whales or dolphins. As naive as we were, we thought they were a bunch of tourists on one of those whale/dolphin watching tours. Right before I drove away though, I remembered that this region is actually famous for ‘whaling’ or ‘The Grind’ which are two different terms for… you guessed it, whale hunting. So I pulled over to the side of the road to further investigate what was going on. To my luck, I spotted a local wearing a reflector vest, standing at the edge of the cliff watching the boats as they led the dolphins into the cove. Before I even asked him, it occurred to me that these were not tourists, and they were not only interested in watching. I ran up to the man and asked what they were doing with the dolphins; he explained to me that those were pilot whales, not dolphins and that they were trapping them into the cove to hunt them. By this point my heart was already racing; when I planned this trip, it never even crossed my mind that I would witness something like this. I hurried back into the car, made a u-turn and drove down to the cove where the entire village was gathered; I am talking men, women, teenagers and even children below the age of ten, everyone was there, everyone was participating.
Maddie and Victoria wanted no part in any of this so they stayed in the car, far away and safe from any of the gruesome sights. Mustafa and I though, we stood there, midst the entire thing; trying to take in the sight of the sea as it turned red with blood. I have seen animals being slaughtered before, but I have never seen this much blood in my entire life. It wasn’t easy, and the worst part was, the screams of the whales. You could hear their high pitched shrieks right before the silence of death. I stood there, looking around in shock, watching the young children as they pulled the ropes in closer and closer. After being dumbstruck for what seemed like eternity, I finally snapped back to reality, looked for someone in a yellow vest and started firing my questions away.
You might have seen videos of whales and dolphins being hunted and killed. The same videos will probably also involve some sort of raising awareness against those acts since these animals are endangered and soon to be extinct. Well thankfully, this is not the case in the Faroe Islands. The Islanders used to hunt dolphins in the past because they needed every bit of food to survive their harsh winter. However, advancements in trade has helped them overcome this need. They still rely on whale to survive the entire year; however, dolphins don’t produce that much meat so they are not worth hunting. The whales you see in these pictures are pilot whales, which according to the Islanders and a quick search on Google, are not actually endangered.
When a large pod of whales are spotted by any local or tourist near an island (giving false information regarding whale locations to try and impede or prevent The Grind is illegal and punishable by law in the Faroe Islands), anyone with a boat would quickly rush out to sea. They surround the whales with their boats and then guide them towards the cove. Once they are close enough, men jump into the water with hooks and insert them into the whale’s blowhole. As soon as the hook’s in place, they would start pulling, I’m talking men, women, boys, girls, everyone. They would pull the whale all the way to the shore and that is when it all goes down. One of the men jumps towards the whale, splashing around in the red colored sea as he tries to pin it down. When he feels like he has a grip on the whale, he places a cylindrical spear one hand away from the blowhole and then pierces through to the whale's brain… just like that, a high pitched shriek and instant death. Apparently this method was enforced by the government recently in order to ensure that the whale dies instantly with minimum pain and suffering. When the deed is done, the whale’s neck is slit open, allowing all the blood to flow out into the sea. This exact same process occurs to around twenty whales simultaneously, and as soon as a hook is free, it is attached to another whale, and so on. The Islanders do not have control over the number of whales they hunt because it all happens so fast; however, they do keep count. Each Island has a quota based on its population, once they reach the quota, anything extra is passed over to the next island, and is counted into their quota, and so on. This basically ensures that they do not affect the overall pilot whale population.
Well this part was simple, for food! Whale meat is not actually sold in the Faroe Islands, to do so would be considered a crime. It is distributed to each family for free. The families cook a little bit of it, but the majority is dried and preserved for winter #WinterIsComing
Winter in the Faroe Islands is brutal with storms that make farming practically impossible, which is what they pretty much depend on for food. The man who rented out his AirBnb to us told me that his grandfather almost starved to death one winter. His dry whale and dolphin meat was his only source of food.
Once a year, sometimes twice a year and sometimes none. They cannot control whale traffic so they grab what they can when they can; within the quotas of course. I guess I was just extremely fortunate to have been there during this event and to witness the entire thing!
Everything I said earlier is purely based on conversations that I had with the locals. I wanted to get their perspective, their side of the story. Based on what they told me though, I personally do not think I have anything against it. I mean, the whales are not endangered so it’s basically the same as killing salmon, cows, chicken, lamb, etc. for food. If you were a vegetarian or a vegan, then I would totally understand and respect you being against this. However, I don’t really understand how anyone can attack these people for doing this whilst biting into a burger! I also really respect that the meat is not sold, in a world where almost everything is done for money, this really is just about survival.
What about you? Have you ever seen or heard of The Grind before? Do you have any more information that you would like to share? What are your thoughts on all this? Let me know in the comments section below!