People who are against pilot whaling in the Faroe Islands often refer to the following 12 reasons for why pilot whaling should stop. Here is why 10 of them fail and why 2 are partially right / partially wrong.
1. The Faroese should stop killing pilot whales because the pilot whales are endangered.
The pilot whale is one of the most common whale species in the oceans all over the world, especially the long finned pilot whale. Pilot whales are not endangered according to the authorities in this matter. The NAMMCO (North Atlantic Marine Mammal Commission) is the real authority on all matters regarding the North Atlantic pilot whale. The NAMMCO base their estimation on sightings – and they estimate that the number of long finned pilot whales in the North- and East Atlantic is 780.000, and that’s excluding the West Atlantic, so the number might be, even significantly higher. The ACS (American Cetacean Society) agrees with those numbers and the IUCN also agrees that the pilot whale hunt is, as they say: ‘probably sustainable’. The IWC doesn’t consider itself an authority on small cetaceans, of which the long finned pilot whale is one. So the pilot whale is not on the list of endangered animal species. The Sea Shepherd organisation stands alone in its claims that the long finned pilot whale is endangered.
The Faroese have killed pilot whales for at least 1.200 years, so the pilot whales should probably have been extinct by now, if the pilot whaling in the Faroes was a threat to the population as a whole. Since 1584 (that is how long it’s been carefully monitored) the Faroese have killed 850 pilot whales (in later years around 800) on average a year, so that’s a tenth of a percent (0.1%) of the pilot whale population only in the North Atlantic, which is very far from exceeding the pilot whales’ reproduction rate at around 2 %. There is nothing to indicate that the pilot whale population is in decline. As long as the pilot whale is not endangered, this is not a rational argument. So this is a failed argument.
2. The Faroese should stop killing pilot whales because the pilot whale slaughter is cruel.
Most images and videos of pilot whale slaughter on the internet are outdated. It doesn’t happen like that any more. The whales are not being stabbed and hacked to death with spears and hooks. Killing methods have improved a lot, especially since the 1980s. Spears are forbidden, and hooks are now rounded and put into the blowholes of the whales to drag them into a better position for a quick kill. New methods have been developed which have decreased the time to death of each whale to 2-4 seconds. The pilot whale slaughters were without a doubt more violent than necessary years ago, but it’s different today. Besides, it is not possible to hunt and kill wild animals in any ‘pretty’ or non-bloody way. No hunting is pretty and bloodless.
People often claim that comparison to other kinds of animal slaughters is not relevant – it is like comparing oranges and apples, they say. But if you accept all animals as equals when it comes to the right not to be killed in a cruel way – and if there is no reason to believe that pilot whale slaughter, as it is conducted today, is crueler than other accepted ways of slaughtering animals, it IS relevant. Because if the slaughter of pilot whales still is labelled ‘cruel’, then many forms of accepted animal slaughter must also be labelled as ‘cruel’. You can’t demand a ban of the slaughter of pilot whales on these grounds, and then NOT demand a ban of other kinds of animal hunting and slaughter just as ‘cruel’.
Furthermore, it wouldn’t be feasible to ban all animal slaughter and therefore, this is not a rational argument. The banning of all hunting of wild animals would also have incalculable consequences for all the indigenous people in this world, who base their livelihoods on hunting. So this is a failed argument.
3. The Faroese should stop killing pilot whales because the slaughter is bloody and gory.
The killing of animals is bloody. It might look ghastly when the sea turns red during a pilot whale slaughter, but basically it doesn’t make this kind of slaughter much different or worse than the common slaughter of captive animals in slaughter houses. All animals bleed and are emptied of blood when they’re slaughtered. The difference is that slaughter houses have drains that go into underground sewers, but you can’t kill pilot whales in a slaughter house. It must be done in the shallows by a beach, which makes this slaughter seem much bloodier or ‘graphic’ than other kinds of slaughters. Pilot whales are also big animals, so of course there is a lot of blood.
Furthermore, since marine mammals can dive for long periods at a time, there is a lot of oxygen in their blood, which means that their blood is more intensely red than blood in mammals on land. This also contributes to the coloring of the sea. Blood also spreads quickly in water. Just try to put one drop of blood in a glass of water and watch what happens.
It’s not a rational argument to say, the Faroese have to stop killing whales because it is too bloody. This is irrational and a failed argument too.
4. The Faroese should stop killing pilot whales because such a tradition doesn’t belong to the 21st century. They shouldn’t do this just because it is a tradition.
People in the Faroe Islands don’t kill pilot whales because it is a tradition. They do it for food, as they’ve always done. But opponents call this practice of getting food ‘a tradition’, because this way of living off of the natural resources of the ocean has been common on these islands for more than 1,200 years.
Pilot whale meat and blubber is so common and natural for the Faroese to eat that to them this food is no different than beef or bacon is to people in other countries, where they have a tradition for eating cattle or pig meat. It’s just that you can’t breed pilot whales in the same manner as you can breed cattle or pigs. But why would you want to do that, if there is an abundance of pilot whales around the islands living free their whole life? Why would the Faroese deprive the whales of that privilege and somehow cage them or put them in ocean feed lots?
Who’s to decide what belongs to the 21st century or not? Or which traditions are worth keeping for the Faroese or not? It is definitely not for people outside the Faroe Islands to decide. The right word for this is ethnocentrism. That is: judging another culture solely by the values and standards of one’s own culture. The ethnocentric individual will judge other groups relative to his or her own particular ethnic group or culture, especially with concern to language, behavior, customs, and religion. Ethnocentrism is not rational, so again a failed argument.
5. The Faroese should stop killing pilot whales because it’s appalling that the Faroese people are so insensitive to these poor animals.
This is a purely emotional, judgmental and also an irrational argument, which also belongs to the category: Ethnocentrism. The Faroese people are not more ‘insensitive’ to animals than other people. If the Faroese are to be labelled ‘insensitive’, every meat-eater in the world must be labelled just as insensitive to the animal he or she eats.
People outside the Faroe Islands tend to forget that they also have ‘insensitive’ butchers in the livestock industry in their own country, whom they do not question in the same way. If you do not question the butchers’ ‘insensitive behavior’ in your own country just as much, this is not a valid argument. It’s not only a failed argument, it is also hypocritical.
6. The Faroese should stop killing pilot whales because it is not necessary for them to kill pilot whales. They have plenty of other foods they can eat.
It is not up to others to decide, what is necessary for the Faroese and what is not. This is – again: ethnocentrism and shows a lack of understanding or knowledge of the circumstances in the Faroe Islands.
It is also logically inconsistent. With this logic one could just as well claim that it is not ‘necessary’ to breed cattle or pigs for food. Live stock industry depletes and pollutes the earth to a great extent, and the utilization rate of available land for pasture for the breeding of cattle or pigs, for instance, is much lower compared to the utilization rate by growing vegetables directly for human consumption on the same area. But people still feel they have ‘the right’ to have meat for dinner, even if that – from a rational, holistic perspective – is not beneficial nor very sensible, because it means that there is much less food available for the human population as a whole. Therefore, one could just as well say, it is ‘unnecessary’ or even irrational to eat meat from livestock animals in a world on a fast track towards overpopulation.
The fact that the Faroese have access – and the economical opportunity (to a degree) at the moment – to buy (very expensive) imported foods, is not a valid argument against the Faroese utilizing locally available resources. Unlike people living in warmer climates with lots of flatland and space they can use for breeding and feeding livestock, the Faroe Islands is a very limited, quite mountainous area in the middle of the ocean in one of the stormiest areas in the world with almost no flatland or fertile soil, where you only can grow grass for the sheep to eat, a few potatoes and some rhubarb, as well as farm some salmon in the fjords. It’s still not enough food for the inhabitants, though. Summer season is also very short. (We’re in the beginning of May right now and it has been snowing for a couple of days).
Regardless, it’s still not for others to decide, what the Faroese need or don’t need. So a failed argument again.
7. The Faroese should stop killing pilot whales because the whales are intelligent.
Measuring intelligence is highly complex, and scientists do not agree on how to precisely measure intelligence, even when it comes to people.
Sea Shepherd founder Capt. Watson claims that it is a sign of highly developed intelligence that the whales have figured out how to live in harmony with nature, unlike us humans, so therefore they are more intelligent than people. Okay, if that is his logic, he could just as well claim a squirrel is more intelligent than humans. A squirrel also lives in harmony with nature, and nobody would say that a squirrel is more intelligent than a human being for that reason. Capt. Watson is just being manipulative.
There is no doubt that bottle-nosed dolphins are some of the most intelligent creatures in the animal kingdom. Dolphins are good at learning tricks, especially in captivity – also pilot whales to a degree. Dolphins are proven more intelligent than most other animals, but they are still very far from being as intelligent as people. And not all whales rank that high. The pilot whale is in the dolphin family, but pilot whales are not the most intelligent of the dolphins. Pilot whales are not especially intelligent in comparison to many other mammals either. Other animal species that humans kill for food are also proven highly ‘intelligent’. So this argument is inconsistent, if those who claim it is wrong to kill pilot whales because of their intelligence do not also oppose the killing of other intelligent animals for food.
Whether humans should refrain from killing “intelligent” animals or not is a matter of opinion. And there is no rational reason for claiming that one opinion is morally more right than the other. Also: How intelligent should an animal be to obtain a rank between the untouchables? How would you measure that to be able to set a border between highly intelligent and “stupid” animals? So again a failed argument.
8. The Faroese should stop killing pilot whales because the whales are sentient and sociable.
Yes, pilot whales are sentient and sociable, that is true. And so are all other animals too, more or less. Animals, most people in the world eat – like cows and pigs, even chickens – are also sentient and sociable. So you can’t on the one hand say that the Faroese shouldn’t kill whales on these grounds, and at the same time accept the killing of other sentient and sociable animals.
If you are against the killing of animals because they are sentient and sociable, you are inconsistent if you don’t include all animals in the equation – that is: you must also oppose the killing of cattle, pigs and chickens, yes, any animal in fact. That is unrealistic. So… failed argument.
9. The Faroese should stop killing pilot whales because they kill entire pods. Whales have strong ties to their group and killing entire pods is the same as wiping out a whole culture.
If that is so, then it would have been even more cruel to kill half of the pod and let the other half go free. The whales have strong ties to their group, yes, but to claim that the whales have a culture – and by killing an entire pod, you wipe out a whole culture – is quite far-fetched, and just another one of Capt. Watson’s manipulative claims, manufactured to affect people emotionally who have a tendency to romanticize these “gentle giants” – as if they are some kind of ‘human beings of the sea’. But this is belief – not a fact.
There is no evidence whatsoever to suggest that pilot whales develop any kind of advanced cultures like human beings. They are sociable animals and they communicate with each other, yes, and they might act friendly to people, but so do dogs and pigs for the most part as well. On these grounds you could just as well say these animals have some kind of ‘culture’ too. It doesn’t make the whale any more special than dogs or pigs, for instance, or many other animals.
Whales are wild animals and there are examples of whales attacking people unprovoked, also pilot whales, even though they mostly let humans in peace, probably because humans are not interesting as prey for them. Whales are carnivores. They kill and eat other animal species. In other words, they are nothing special. They are not good, they are not bad. They are just animals, even though they might be fascinating in some ways, because they’re so big and relatively intelligent too – as far as animals are concerned.
Some people, who feel saddened by the alarming development in our ailing world as a whole, just seem to have a strong need for turning the whales into something special: A symbol of something more innocent and more pure than us humans. These people seem to project their hopes for a better world into these animals and thus, they elevate them into something they’re not. Consequently, everyone who kills these animals must therefore ‘commit an evil act’ destroying the best things in this world, and therefore should be strongly opposed. This is romantic, but not rational. So this is also a failed argument.
10. The Faroese should stop killing pilot whales because, despite of what the Faroese claim, the whaling is commercial. There is evidence that shows that you can buy whale meat in supermarkets and in restaurants.
It is true that one sometimes can buy pilot whale meat and blubber in a supermarket or in a restaurant – in small amounts, but this is not evidence that the pilot whaling is done for commercial purposes. It’s not – and it won’t be in the future either. The pilot whale catch is distributed for free among those assisting in catching the whales and the local village communities in the area, as well as to hospitals, elderly homes and orphanages in the nearby areas.
Sometimes, in small villages with not many inhabitants, there might be a surplus which might end up on the shelfs in a supermarket or in a restaurant in Tórshavn, the capital, but this could never become big business, because – as already stated – the vast majority of the people who want whale meat and blubber can get it for free, so there is no reason for them to go into the supermarket and buy it.
A few restaurants and hotels offer pilot whale meat and blubber to tourists during the summer season, because, of course, there are tourists curious enough to taste the Faroese national dish, but this is done on a very small scale, and could never become a big business. So again, pilot whaling is not done for commercial purposes. It doesn’t and wouldn’t pay in any way. So this argument fails.
11. The Faroese should stop killing pilot whales because this tradition damages the image of their country in the outside world.
This is partially right. At least it might very well hurt the image some people have of the Faroe Islands and the Faroese people (if they have any image of the islands and their people, that is). It depends, though, on their worldview – and especially their view on whales. It seems that many people, who consider whales to be very special creatures, find it very disturbing and even ‘sick’ that the Faroese kill pilot whales. Based on the thousands of protesting letters the Faroese authorities receive every year, it is obvious that the majority of the protesters are city-dwellers and/or children – not people living directly in nature and off of nature’s larder.
The fact is that the Faroese also get significant support from many people around the world, mainly people who live in parts of the world where they also hunt animals for food. These people have a worldview similar to the Faroese and understand the circumstances in the Faroe Islands. It is also a fact that tourists visiting the islands are curious to taste pilot whale meat and blubber, which is why it is offered usually as a starter on the menu in the summer season in a few restaurants in the Faroe Islands. It wouldn’t seem that these tourists are opposed to pilot whaling.
Though the anti-whaling activists would want everyone to believe that “the whole world” is against pilot whaling in the Faroe Islands, there is reason to believe that the majority is quite indifferent and hasn’t taken a stand on this question. Anti-whaling activists have for many years endorsed that the Faroe Islands should be boycotted by the international community as long as they kill pilot whales. But they have never succeeded in getting any real support for these efforts.
It seems that the series “Whale Wars – Viking Shores” aired in the USA for the time being, which deals with the Sea Shepherd Organization’s interference with the pilot whaling in the Faroe Islands, has divided the viewers. It’s likely that many take the anti-whaling activists side, but judging from all the comments, for instance, on YouTube and Facebook, it seems that just as many take the Faroese side.
Among other things the series has revealed natures stunning beauty in the Faroe Islands, and also that the Faroese have a very strong culture. Many of the commentators declare that now that they have had an impression of how it is in the Faroe Islands, these beautiful islands have become one of those places they feel they must visit at least once before they die. So after all, this series might turn out to be an effective advertisement for the Faroe Islands for a lot of people around the world, who never knew this place existed before they saw the series.
12. The Faroese should stop killing pilot whales because pilot whale meat and blubber are contaminated and it is dangerous for the Faroese people’s health to eat it.
Of all the allegations mentioned above, only this last one is truly a valid point seen from a rational point of view, even though the health dangers are kind of exaggerated. But it does not change the fact that it is still up to the Faroese to decide for themselves, whether they want to eat contaminated food or not.
The Faroese will likely stop the pilot whaling gradually over the coming years, because pilot whale meat and blubber does contain mercury/methyl mercury at levels considered too high. Pilot whales also contain other toxins coming from man-made pollution, like PCB and DTD. And there are indications that exposure to some of these contaminants may affect human fetuses and their development. This fact is absolutely relevant and the majority of the Faroese people recognize this. But the anti-whaling activists often exaggerate the effects of this contamination, which are more subtle than they let people believe. There has, for instance, not been one single reported fatality due to eating pilot whale meat and blubber, not ever.
As was first demonstrated with lead, and then with polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) and methyl mercury, exposures in early life to neurotoxic chemicals can interfere with brain development and produce long-lasting detrimental effects on cognition and behavior. A new generation of chemicals termed endocrine disruptors – among them phthalates, bisphenol A, and certain pesticides – which can alter the availability and actions of endogenous hormones, is suspected of being capable of interfering with early brain development. It is hypothesized that certain chemical exposures in early life, perhaps acting in concert with genetic and social factors, may impact the prevalence of developmental disabilities across the population, and account in part for the apparent population-wide increases in neurodevelopmental abnormalities observed over recent years.
As stated, these are indications – not finally proven conclusions, but it is, of course, still very important to study this further, and take precautions.
The long-term intakes of total mercury, methyl mercury and cadmium from eating pilot whale in the Faroe Islands have been estimated. The long-term intakes of both total and methyl mercury exceed the Provisional Tolerable Weekly Intakes (PTWI) recommended by WHO. For the general population the PTWI’s are 300 and 200 μg mercury per person per week for total and methyl mercury, respectively. The calculated intake of methyl mercury approaches the lower value (1200 μg/person/week) of the recognized critical level of methyl mercury intoxication in the general population.
It is therefore concluded in several studies that the general Faroe Islands population should significantly restrict the consumption of pilot whale foods. One study (Dr. Pál Weihe’s) concludes the Faroese should totally refrain from it. The Faroese health authorities have looked into this study and also looked at other studies, and what they have come to is not as radical. They recommend that pregnant women, or women who plan on being pregnant, should not eat pilot whale foods at all, as the critical levels for methyl mercury intoxication of pregnant women and fetuses are lower by a factor of 2–5 than for the general population. They do not recommend that pilot whale meat and blubber should be served to younger children, while it seems to be within safe limits for the rest of the population to eat pilot whale meat and blubber once to twice a month.
The Faroese people are not indifferent to this unfortunate development. People are taking action personally – many do not serve pilot whale meat and blubber to their children any longer, and most younger women as well as child-bearing women choose not to eat pilot whale meat and blubber at all. The local authorities in the different whaling districts are making efforts to restrict pilot whaling even more than it was before, making sure that those involved don’t kill more whales than people can eat. The local village whaling associations who manage the catching of the whales agree with these restrictions, because they accept what science has shown.
But as long as the health authorities haven’t recommended that the Faroese population as a whole completely refrain from eating pilot whale meat and blubber (which, by the way, is the Faroese national dish), and, as long as pilot whaling is done in a responsible, sustainable, care-taking manner, the Faroese see no reason for stopping pilot whaling altogether. And they think that there is absolutely no valid reason for others to interfere in Faroese matters, trying to force the Faroese not to utilize this natural resource in their own country.