The slaughter of 1,428 white-sided dolphins over the weekend, part of a four-century-old traditional drive of sea mammals into shallow water where they are killed for their meat and blubber, has reignited a debate on the Faroe Islands.
The hunt in the North Atlantic islands is not commercial and is authorised, but environmental activists claim it is cruel.
Even people in the Faroes who defend the traditional practice worry that this year’s hunt will draw unwanted attention because it was far larger than previous ones and seemingly took place without the usual organisation.
Heri Petersen, the foreman of a group that drives pilot whales toward shore on the central Faroe island of Eysturoy, where the killings took place on Sunday, said he was not told about the dolphin drive and “strongly dissociated” himself from it.
He told the news outlet in.fo. that there were too many dolphins and too few people on the beach to slaughter them.
Islanders usually kill up to 1,000 sea mammals annually, according to data kept by the Faroe Islands. Last year, that included only 35 white-sided dolphins.
Olavur Sjurdarberg, chairman of the Faroese Pilot Whale Hunt Association, feared Sunday’s slaughter would revive the discussion about the sea mammal drives and put a negative spin on the ancient tradition of the 18 rocky islands located halfway between Scotland and Iceland.
They are semi-independent and part of the Danish realm.
“We need to keep in mind that we are not alone on earth. On the contrary, the world has become much smaller today, with everyone walking around with a camera in their pocket,” Mr Sjurdarberg told local broadcaster KVF.
“This is a fabulous treat for those who want us (to look bad) when it comes to pilot whale catching.”
Faroese Fishery Minister Jacob Vestergaard told local radio station Kringvarp Foeroya that everything was done by the book in the dolphin hunt.
For years, the Seattle-based Sea Shepherd Conservation Society has been opposing the sea mammal drives that date from the late 16th century. On Facebook, the organisation described the weekend’s events as “an illegal hunt”.
The white-side dolphins and pilot whales are not endangered species.
The drives are regulated by laws and the meat and blubber are shared on a community basis.
One local told the Danish newspaper Ekstra Bladet that there was no way that locals would want to consume this much dolphin meat. “My guess is that most of the dolphins will be thrown in the trash or in a hole in the ground.”