The Faroe Islands and Whaling

History and Culture

The hunting of whales and dolphins has been a way of life for the Faroese for around 1,300 years, since the time of the first Norse settlements on the islands. Archaeological data shows pilot whale bones were present in settlements as long as 1,200 years ago. The harsh weather and rugged landscape made it difficult to grow crops and this meant the people relied heavily on whale meat and blubber for food, fuel and general survival.

Today the Faroese still continue to kill pilot whales and Atlantic white-sided dolphins each summer, in a hunt known as the grindadráp. The 'grind' is a community occasion,  full of excitement, laughter and celebration.  Children of all ages are actively encouraged to watch the hunt to desensitize them to the killing and preserve the whaling tradition for future generations.

 

The Faroese are proud of their heritage and many still consider the grindadráp an important part of their food culture and history. However, with living standards now equal to other Nordic countries and imported goods readily available in shops, whale meat is no longer a necessary or essential food source.

Health Implications

In December 2008 the Faroes' Chief Medical Officer wrote to the Government recommending that pilot whales should no longer be considered fit for human consumption due to the high levels of toxic chemicals, such as mercury and cadmium, found in the meat. New guidelines issued in 2011 recommend only one meal of whale meat and blubber per month, with a special recommendation that young women and girls, pregnant women and breastfeeding mothers should avoid it completely. 

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