The earliest records of drive hunting in the Faroe islands date back to 1584. There are 23 legally certified bays within the 17 inhabited islands where a grind may take place, each chosen for its suitability to beach whales. Killing whales outside of these locations is illegal in the Faroe Islands.
Each hunt, or grindadráp, is led by a grindaformenn but anyone can participate provided they have completed a special 150 minute training course on how to kill the whales. When a pod of whales is sighted, a grind or grindaboð is called and boats form a semicircle around the whales to herd them towards the bay. On command from the grindaformenn, stones attached to lines are thrown into the water behind the whales to create a wall of noise, which frightens and confuses them so they swim towards the shore in panic.
The equipment used during the grind usually consists of a metal gaff hook (blástorungul), which is inserted into the blowhole and used to haul the whale ashore, ropes and a specially designed knife (mønustingari) used to sever the whale's spine.
Once the whales have been dragged onto the beach they are killed by cutting through the dorsal area to sever the spinal cord. The neck is then cut open to drain the blood as the Faroese believe this improves the quality of the meat.
As whales are killed individually, this means the remaining animals are forced to swim in the blood of their family and hear the distress calls (witnesses have
described this sound as a high pitched scream) made by the dying whales. This in turn causes them to thrash in panic, aware of the fate that awaits them, and makes them more difficult
to control during the kill.
The whalers claim the killing method is humane and the time to death averages around 30 seconds. However, scientific evidence shows that several cuts are sometimes needed and it can take up to 15 minutes for certain whales to die. In some cases a vet has even had to intervene due to the killing process not being carried out effectively.
International condemnation of the grind is mounting on both ethical and conservation grounds, with calls for intervention by Denmark to align the Faroe Islands with EU countries where the killing, injuring or harassing of whales and dolphins is illegal.
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Faroe Whales Action Group
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