Inhabitants of Faroe Islands catch and slaughter pilot whales during the traditional 'Grindadrap' (whale hunting in Faroese) near Sandur on Sandoy island, 5 June 2012. Photo: Andrija Ilic / REUTERS

By Felicity Capon 
24 June 2015

(Newsweek) – Two activist ships are racing to the Faroe Islands, in the North Atlantic to attempt to stop the "barbaric" annual slaughter of hundreds of whales and dolphins currently taking place in the autonomous Danish province.

Two vessels, the Sam Simon and the Bob Barker, which are owned by the militant conservation group Sea Shepherd, set sail yesterday from Bremen in Germany and are due to reach the area by Friday.

The annual hunt, known as the grindadráp or 'grind' and which goes on throughout summer, is defended by Faroe islanders who say it is part of their cultural heritage and is a tradition stretching back over hundreds of years. Yet the methods the hunters use have long been the source of controversy.

The whales and dolphins are herded into bays by small boats before they are hacked to death by locals using hooks and knives, with hunters cutting through the animal's neck to break its spinal cord. Often entire villages take part in the hunts, including children.

A Faroese man shows his son how to take out teeth from a whale's jaw in the harbour of Torshavn, Faroe Islands, 23 July 2010. Photo: Andrija Ilic / REUTERS

The whale meat and blubber are eaten by locals and considered delicacies, although consumption has declined in recent years after growing concerns over heavy metal toxins in the flesh.

According to Sea Shepherd, this year's killing season has already begun, with 154 pilot whales reportedly being slaughtered in a single day on Miðvágur beach on the island of Vágar at the beginning of June. The hunts usually take place between May and October, when the sea animals migrate to the area for food.

"Our hope is that compassion will prevail over cruelty, that the beautiful bays and beaches of the Faroe Islands will stop running red with the blood of highly intelligent, sentient and social mammals," said Captain MacLean, in a statement published on the group's website.

"There are no starving Faroe islanders who need whale meat," argues Robert Read, head of Sea Shepherd UK's operations. "The actual grind is almost like a national honour sport, yet is very different from so many other hunts around the world, in the sense that nothing escapes. If there is a pod of dolphins they will kill every single one, wiping out entire genetic pools." [more]

'The Grind': Annual whale slaughter begins in Faroe Islands

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