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Slaughter of dolphins on Faroe Islands reignites animal rights debate

The hunt in the North Atlantic islands is part of a four-century old local tradition where the sea mammals are driven into shallow water and killed for their meat and blubber (file pic)
AP Reporters

The traditional slaughter of 1,428 white-sided dolphins in shallow waters off the Faroe Islands has reignited a bitter animal rights debate.

The hunt in the North Atlantic islands is part of a four-century old local tradition where the sea mammals are driven into shallow water and killed for their meat and blubber.

The practice is not commercial and is authorised, but environmental activists claim it is cruel.

Some people in the Faroes who defend the slaughter worry that this particular hunt will draw unwanted attention, because it was far larger than previous events and seemingly took place without the usual organisation.

Heri Petersen, the foreman of a group that drives pilot whales towards shore on the central Faroese island of Eysturoy, where the killings took place on Sunday, said he was not informed of the drive and “strongly dissociated” himself from it.

He told the web-based 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 the slaughter would revive debate on the practice and put a negative spin on the ancient tradition peculiar to the 18 rocky islands located halfway between Scotland and Iceland.

The islands are semi-independent and part of the Danish realm.

Mr Sjurdarberg told local broadcaster KVF: “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.

“This is a fabulous treat for those who want us badly when it comes to pilot whale catching.”

Faroese fisheries minister Jacob Vestergaard told local radio station Kringvarp Foeroya that everything had been done by the book.

For years, the Seattle-based Sea Shepherd Conservation Society has been opposing the 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 the pilot whales are not endangered species.

Each year, islanders drive herds of the mammals – chiefly pilot whales – into shallow waters, where they are stabbed to death.

A blow-hole hook is used to secure beached whales, before their spines and main arteries leading to the brain are severed with knives.

The drives are regulated by legislation, and the meat and blubber is shared on a community basis.

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