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Annual Whale Slaughter Still a Tradition on the Faroe Islands

Annual Whale Slaughter Still a Tradition on the Faroe Islands

The Faroe Islands, a territory of Denmark lie to the north of the United Kingdom.

It’s been an extremely bloody few weeks in the "Ferocious Isles," even by Faroese standards. On Aug. 8, 107 Long-finned Pilot whales were slaughtered in Sandavágur, on Vagar Island, a Denmark territory. On Aug. 11, 21 were butchered in Leynar and on Aug. 13, 135 lost their lives in Húsavík.

The grind, as the Pilot whale drive is called, has a recorded history since 1584. There are 23 whaling bays assigned to six districts in which the meat and blubber are divided among the population. A drive is initiated when fishermen or ferries offshore sight dolphins. The dolphins are driven into a bay with boats and even jet skis and pulled up onto the beach with a hook in the blowhole. Then the spinal cord is cut with a knife.

The Húsavík massacre on Aug. 13 was not the only one that took place that day. In Hvalba, the incredibly high number of 430 Atlantic White-sided dolphins were driven into ‘whale bay’ and brutally murdered. Some people might be surprised to hear that these islanders are targeting species other than Pilot whales, but they have always hunted smaller dolphins, especially in Hvalba. They last killed Atlantic White-sided dolphins in Hvalba in Aug. 2010 and Risso’s dolphins earlier that year in April. Oravik took 100 Atlantic White-sided dolphins in Aug. 2009. That same month, Hvalba killed two Northern Bottlenose whales that were reported as stranded, and a month later Klaksvik took three Risso’s.

While White-sided and Bottlenose dolphins and Harbor porpoises can be driven to slaughter, according the local regulations, it is illegal to kill Risso’s and Orcas. In all of these instances, mistaking them for Pilot whales was cited as the excuse for killing them.

On Aug. 13, 135 long-finned pilot whales were brutally slaughtered in Húsavík.

Photo courtesy www.facebook.com

Soon however, they will have to pass a test before they can participate in the bloodshed. The Minister of Fisheries announced that as of May 2015 all persons taking part in the slaughter must take a course in the laws and correct procedures relating to the grinds, and possess the relevant license to kill. They will get training in the use of the grind tools that will be permitted as of 2015, nostril hooks and spinal lances; the ability to recognize death signals (not suffering, as that is irrelevant to the killers) of the animals; and be familiar with all legislation before they can participate. Use of the grind knife and grinding hook will no longer be allowed except in special circumstances by permit. Some conservation groups have hailed these measures as the beginning of the end of the grind.

Sea Shepherd has led campaigns to oppose the grind in the Faroe Islands since 1985. During the 2011 Operation Ferocious Isles campaign, not a single whale was killed while Sea Shepherd was on patrol during the July-August high season. So far this is the only way that the lives of these magnificent animals have been saved. This work was chronicled in a five-episode series on Animal Planet called Whale Wars: Viking Shores.

The first grind this year took place on July 21 when 125 Pilot whales were killed in Víðvík. This is the village where in Nov. 2010, 62 Pilot whales were driven onto the beach at dusk. All animals were killed, but because it was too dark by then, the flensing had to wait until the next morning. By that time the corpses had already started to rot and most of the whales were discarded, killed for no reason.

The most savage of the recent grinds took place July 30 when 267 Pilot whales were driven into the bay of Fuglafjørður. Reports say that only four men were available to kill the panicking animals. For more than 90 minutes, they were held in the bay with boat-engine-noise and blowhole hooks until they were all slaughtered.

Neither the July 30 mess, nor the Nov. 2010 example were isolated incidents. The butchers regularly screw up without consequences. Animal welfare is a farce in the "Ferocious Isles" and the claims of a fast, two-minute death are more the exception than the rule.

In Hvalba, 430 Atlantic White-sided dolphins were driven into ‘whale bay’ and brutally murdered. Photo courtesy www.facebook.com

In Klaksvík, July 19, 2010, 228 Pilot whales were driven ashore, despite the beach only having the capacity to hold 100 animals. Again it was dusk, and the lack of light combined with far too many animals resulted in a two-hour orgy of blood and suffering.

On Oct. 25, 2012, an attempt to tag 36 Pilot whales by the Faroese National Museum went terribly wrong. After the radio transmitters had been attached, the disoriented whales got stuck in the mud and ended up screaming on the beach. Museum officials could not be reached and the Torshavn government did not allow the villagers to kill the animals, as it is illegal to kill tagged dolphins. Only several hours later in the night, when it was decided that the animals could not be saved, the locals were given permission to slaughter them.

In Nov. 2008, the Faroese Chief Medical Officers Pál Weihe and Høgni Debes Joensen announced that Pilot whale meat and blubber contains too much mercury, PCBs and DDT derivatives to be safe for human consumption. Dioxin has now been added to the list and the latest dietary recommendation on the consumption of Pilot whale meat and blubber are:

  • Adults should eat, at most, one meal of pilot whale meat and blubber per month.
  • Girls and women should refrain entirely from eating blubber as long as they are still planning to have children.
  • Women who are planning pregnancy within the next three months, who are pregnant or who are breastfeeding should refrain from eating whale meat.
  • The kidneys and liver of pilot whales should not be eaten.

As a result of the health issues, much of the meat is now discarded into the ocean, as the underwater graveyards discovered by Sea Shepherd in 2010 and 2011 have shown. The grind is not a source of food. It is a despicable ritual blood sport.

On July 31, the EU brought economic sanctions against the Faroese. Not for killing dolphins, but because the Faroese government unilaterally tripled the existing quota for herring earlier this year. That quota had been agreed with the EU and Norway. A committee of member state representatives voted to back the European Commission's proposal to impose sanctions on the Faroe Islands for overfishing of Atlanto-Scandian herring.

These fishery criminals of Europe might still have to face litigation for the bloody grind as well. Denmark, of which the Faroe Islands are a protectorate, is in violation of three conventions it has signed whereby it vowed to do everything within its capacity to protect Pilot whales—the Bern Convention, Bonn Convention and ASCOBANS. As a result, Sea Shepherd France is bringing the matter to the European Commission in order to compel Denmark to enforce the obligations contained in these conventions and act to uphold the principles outlined therein.

The Faeroes economy depends in large part on fish exports. If you are upset by the grinds, consider not buying their products and urging your supermarkets and governments not to import them.

To contact the Danish Foreign Ministry directly with your complaints, call overseas at 011 45 33 92 0000 or send an e-mail to um@um.dk

Visit EcoWatch’s BIODIVERSITY page for more related news on this topic.

A net-casting ogre-faced spider. CBG Photography Group, Centre for Biodiversity Genomics / CC BY-SA 3.0

Just in time for Halloween, scientists at Cornell University have published some frightening research, especially if you're an insect!

The ghoulishly named ogre-faced spider can "hear" with its legs and use that ability to catch insects flying behind it, the study published in Current Biology Thursday concluded.

"Spiders are sensitive to airborne sound," Cornell professor emeritus Dr. Charles Walcott, who was not involved with the study, told the Cornell Chronicle. "That's the big message really."

The net-casting, ogre-faced spider (Deinopis spinosa) has a unique hunting strategy, as study coauthor Cornell University postdoctoral researcher Jay Stafstrom explained in a video.

They hunt only at night using a special kind of web: an A-shaped frame made from non-sticky silk that supports a fuzzy rectangle that they hold with their front forelegs and use to trap prey.

They do this in two ways. In a maneuver called a "forward strike," they pounce down on prey moving beneath them on the ground. This is enabled by their large eyes — the biggest of any spider. These eyes give them 2,000 times the night vision that we have, Science explained.

But the spiders can also perform a move called the "backward strike," Stafstrom explained, in which they reach their legs behind them and catch insects flying through the air.

"So here comes a flying bug and somehow the spider gets information on the sound direction and its distance. The spiders time the 200-millisecond leap if the fly is within its capture zone – much like an over-the-shoulder catch. The spider gets its prey. They're accurate," coauthor Ronald Hoy, the D & D Joslovitz Merksamer Professor in the Department of Neurobiology and Behavior in the College of Arts and Sciences, told the Cornell Chronicle.

What the researchers wanted to understand was how the spiders could tell what was moving behind them when they have no ears.

It isn't a question of peripheral vision. In a 2016 study, the same team blindfolded the spiders and sent them out to hunt, Science explained. This prevented the spiders from making their forward strikes, but they were still able to catch prey using the backwards strike. The researchers thought the spiders were "hearing" their prey with the sensors on the tips of their legs. All spiders have these sensors, but scientists had previously thought they were only able to detect vibrations through surfaces, not sounds in the air.

To test how well the ogre-faced spiders could actually hear, the researchers conducted a two-part experiment.

First, they inserted electrodes into removed spider legs and into the brains of intact spiders. They put the spiders and the legs into a vibration-proof booth and played sounds from two meters (approximately 6.5 feet) away. The spiders and the legs responded to sounds from 100 hertz to 10,000 hertz.

Next, they played the five sounds that had triggered the biggest response to 25 spiders in the wild and 51 spiders in the lab. More than half the spiders did the "backward strike" move when they heard sounds that have a lower frequency similar to insect wing beats. When the higher frequency sounds were played, the spiders did not move. This suggests the higher frequencies may mimic the sounds of predators like birds.

University of Cincinnati spider behavioral ecologist George Uetz told Science that the results were a "surprise" that indicated science has much to learn about spiders as a whole. Because all spiders have these receptors on their legs, it is possible that all spiders can hear. This theory was first put forward by Walcott 60 years ago, but was dismissed at the time, according to the Cornell Chronicle. But studies of other spiders have turned up further evidence since. A 2016 study found that a kind of jumping spider can pick up sonic vibrations in the air.

"We don't know diddly about spiders," Uetz told Science. "They are much more complex than people ever thought they were."

Learning more provides scientists with an opportunity to study their sensory abilities in order to improve technology like bio-sensors, directional microphones and visual processing algorithms, Stafstrom told CNN.

Hoy agreed.

"The point is any understudied, underappreciated group has fascinating lives, even a yucky spider, and we can learn something from it," he told CNN.

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