Blogs Coffee House

Let them eat whale

30 January 2014

11:28 AM

30 January 2014

11:28 AM

If the Faroe Islanders want to eat whale, let them. So says Tim Ecott in today’s Spectator. He argues that the Faroese – who live on dramatic and remote islands in the North Atlantic – shouldn’t be victimised for killing less than 0.1% of the pilot whale population annually for food. There are far more pressing marine issues that we should be concerned about – for example the 100 million sharks slaughtered for shark fin soup, or how the EU has allowed tuna stocks to be decimated.

The problem is, many people don’t agree with him. We’ve all heard that whales are highly intelligent, social and family orientated creatures, and that severing their spines isn’t very nice. The Faroese must, therefore, be stopped.


Sea Shepherd, the environmental campaign group, has set up a campaign to raise awareness of the Faroese whale slaughter, called the grindadráp. As Ecott writes:

“The campaign is gathering rapid traction on social media, and video clips of the Faroese hunt have been ‘liked’ and circulated in their hundreds of thousands. In those clips, the sea is stained red, the flapping pilot whales are dragged ashore with ropes and grappling hooks, and they are killed with a sharp instrument that severs the spine close to the head, resulting in almost instantaneous death.”

It’s no surprise that pictures of a bloody sea, struggling whales, and a plea to ‘stop this cruel slaughter’ attracts thousands of ‘likes’. Every day pictures and petitions are liked and shared on social media by millions of people – and savvy PRs have realised that this is a good way of getting their cause into the public eye.  Someone who knows next to nothing about whales, the Faroe Islands, or marine issues at all will happily share a picture of a blood-red sea. Well, why wouldn’t you? It looks appalling, so surely it must be appalling, no?

Perhaps part of the problem is our immediate ability to be offended by things that we know little about. A similar reaction happened with the pictures released by the League Against Cruel Sports earlier this week, of terriermen shooting and then digging out a pair of foxes from a badger set. Of course the pictures look atrocious; they involve a combination of blood and wild animals. But again, people – including the media – were quick to jump to conclusions without understanding the situation, or knowing the facts.

Whether or not you agree with culling foxes to protect your Sunday roast is one thing – as is having an opinion on whether or not the Faroese should continue with their tradition of hunting any unfortunate pilot whales that get too close to shore. But immediately assuming that any picture that involves blood must be cruel is another. It may not be pretty; but looks can be deceiving, and not everything is as black and white as it may seem on the surface.

Subscribe to The Spectator today for a quality of argument not found in any other publication. Get more Spectator for less – just £12 for 12 issues.

Show comments
  • Adey May

    the whale killers of the Faroes use a special butchers knife to cut through the whales head and sever the spine. This comes after they have had a special hook plunged into their blowhole. Now i don’t know about you, but if someone was to start hacking at the back of my neck with a knife, i would say it was pretty barbaric and cruel and inhumane not to mention painful. If you do not agree wit this then please give us a demonstration.
    The way that the whales fight this, scream and thrash about tells me that there is something inherently cruel and barbaric about this. To suggest that ” looks can be deceiving” is disingenuous and really quite ignorant.

  • AnimuX

    Perhaps the real problem is the sharp drop in intelligence involved when random authors offer up an uninformed opinion to readers and declare their ignorance to be a balanced or knowledgeable argument in favor of whaling.

    First of all, whales and dolphins are not pigs or cows or chickens or even foxes. It would be nice if editorial writers and other commentators could occasionally address this subject without injecting lesser straw man arguments. There are plenty of activists who focus on animal cruelty in agriculture and sport hunting — Google it.

    Second, it’s shocking to witness a Faroese Grindadrap in progress because of the event’s obviously brutal nature — a whole town of jerks rushes into a crowd of corralled pilot whales and physically hacks all of the animals to death. The amount of violence and blood is visibly excessive.

    The Grindadrap has absolutely nothing to do with food security or economic prosperity in the Faroe Islands. Not one person will starve or go bankrupt if these opportunistic slaughter festivals were permanently halted. In fact, the main export of the Faroe Islands is food (fish). The people who participate in this slaughter do it purely because they enjoy killing those animals with their own hands. They get personal pleasure out of it.

    However, distribution and consumption of pilot whale meat poses a public health risk due to contamination from marine pollution. Faroese doctors have repeatedly advised that people refrain from eating the meat or blubber of these animals due to long term studies on the consequences of human exposure to mercury, PCBs and other toxins that accumulate in pilot whales.

    Furthermore, all claims that the animals are killed instantly are false. The pilot whales are harassed at sea, chased in to the shallows, and then hooks are driven either into the animal’s flesh or into their airways. The animals are dragged by ropes attached to these hooks until beached and then one of two killing tools is used to finish the task. A knife is driven into the one side of the animal’s head and cutting continues until the other side is reached — passing through the spine in the process. Or, alternatively a tool that looks like a small spear with a T-shaped handle is driven repeatedly into the back of the animal’s head and claimed to pierce the spine or brain. Only after all of this effort does the whale finally succumb to death among the other members of its family group. The Grindadrap is not a humane practice — though over the years, as a result of observers with cameras, some efforts have been made to make the event seem less cruel — such as only killing the whales on beaches rather than watching them bashed repeatedly against rocks.

    Finally, calls for protecting whales and dolphins are not limited to emotional attachment. For the large whale species, industrial over-exploitation nearly wiped them all out leaving many endangered today. Smaller cetaceans mostly perish as bycatch in commercial fisheries and also face threats from pollution, habitat degradation, climate change, overfishing of prey species, disease, and more. There are no guarantees that the large populations of pilot whales estimated to live throughout the North Atlantic today will survive in the same numbers, or at all, tomorrow. Conservationists are concerned about all marine species — including top predators like sharks and cetaceans — for good reasons.

    • the viceroy’s gin

      “Smaller cetaceans mostly perish as bycatch in commercial fisheries…”


      I think you’re mistaken here. You’d have to document your claim, but I suspect it’d take a mighty worldwide fleet at sea constantly to support it. Most of these animals are too smart to wind up as bycatch, and they never bite a baited hook. Certainly, they are capable of avoiding the slow moving nets of smaller fishing boats, as many of us will have witnessed first hand.

      There are no “guarantees” that anything will survive, not just pilot whales. However, the “good reasons” people are concerned about all marine species must include facts and data, and not just your emotional appeals.

      • AnimuX

        Biologists have estimated that 650,000 marine mammals are killed or injured each year in commercial fisheries as bycatch.

        Of that, 300,000 are dolphins and related cetaceans, and 350,000 more are seals and sea lions.

        • the viceroy’s gin

          As mentioned, we’d need facts and data, not emotional appeals, and your post would fall under the latter.

          Here’s what needs to be done, to support the above poster’s claim. We’d need to know the total world population of “smaller cetaceans” that he’s claiming “mostly perish as bycatch in commercial fisheries”, meaning that the majority of that known population must be demonstrably killed as bycatch by commercial fisheries.

          Your emotional appeals won’t suffice. We’d need hard data and facts, from reputable sources.

          • AnimuX

            Oh I see now. You’re treating a failure of reading comprehension as an excuse to ignore legitimate concerns over the exploitation of marine mammals.

            Here is a clarification — most cetaceans killed as a direct result of human activities are killed as bycatch in commercial fisheries.

            • the viceroy’s gin

              Again, your post is an emotional appeal, and falls far short of the requirements to support the original poster’s claim.

              Facts and data, lad. From reputable sources.

              • AnimuX

                As we continue down the tiring internet argument road of “show me links”, then “your links are biased”, then “don’t just copy and paste”…


                ‘The U.S. Ocean Commission in 2005 judged incidental catch in fisheries the “biggest threat to marine mammalsworldwide . . .[killing] hundreds of thousands of them each year.”’

                But you could have seen that for yourself if you’d bothered to do some actual research…

                • the viceroy’s gin

                  Nope, you’re still relying on emotional appeal, and nothing addressing the poster’s claim.

                  Facts and data, lad, from reputable sources.

                • Adey May

                  There is nothing emotional about what has been posted. Even if the argument were emotional, so what? Whales are in peril and put through pain and suffering due to ” hard arguments” and cold ” facts”.The Faroe whale killers must be some of the most unemotional people on planet earth, lacking any empathy whatsoever. lack of emotion is one of the major problems in the world today.

                • the viceroy’s gin

                  It’s been going on for many millenia, on land and sea. You’ll be hard pressed to demonstrate that this is some changed condition somehow, no matter your emotional arguments.

      • Makroon

        Oh master of “facts and data” – stop pretending you are a serious poster, and have another G&T.

        • the viceroy’s gin

          …do you Camerluvvies ever stop whimpering?

    • James Strong

      All this may well be true, but I still don’t care.
      Faroese are doing something that some people don’t approve of but no humans are being hurt.
      As for public health concerns and doctors’ warnings, I don’t care about that either.
      Tobacco,alcohol, fat, and now sugar are or are becoming non-approved. So what? Ignore the healthy lifestyle fascists.
      And ignore the bleeding-heart husky-huggers and vegetarians.
      Vegetarians: If you love animals, stop eating their food.

      • AnimuX

        You can ignore ‘health lifestyle fascists’ if you prefer but that doesn’t eliminate the potential for harm to people — especially to developing fetuses and children — from consumption of animals that bio-accumulate mercury and PCBs and other toxins. So, humans are being hurt by this so-called tradition of Grindadrap.

      • Adey May

        I doubt that you would care about anything really. I bet you don’t care about starving kiddies in Africa either. As long as you have your football and beer, all the world is good eh? And good for you ignoring the healthy lifestyle fascists. Big AG and big pharma have people like you by the short and curlies. How proud your mother must be.

        • James Strong

          Completely wrong.
          I have a firm distinction between people and other animals; so seeing starving kiddies in Africa does upset me.
          But I would bet that my solution to the problem would be different from yours.
          I would give very, very little in cash aid, very little in anything that can be confiscated by officials and then sold on corruptly.
          Not easy to do, I know but it’s clear that aid policy hasn’t worked and doesn’t work.

  • Graeme S

    What if people start complaining about traditional English breakfast or Marmalade because oranges are killed ……….. complete nonsense !! this practice is part of the Faroes culture let them get on with it

    • the viceroy’s gin

      Yes, apart from questioning the methods used to dispatch the beasts, there’s not much to do here, as it all seems analogous to any other harvest.

      I’d question the sales to zoological fun parks, however, as that seems a uselessly cruel practice. We have many methods to study these creatures in the wild, if desired.

      • Graeme S

        If they are to be harvested … it should be in the most humane method possible

    • Terranite

      Have you compared the brain of an orange with the brain of a pilot whale?
      The orange has no brain and the pilot whale has more convolutions than a human per unit area, a paralimbic lobe which a human lacks entirely, and a larger percentage of brain for the temporal lobes. It is therefore probably more capable of emotion than a human. If somebody came up with a valid arguement as to why oranges have more emotion than a human, I would give up marmalade any day.

    • anncalba

      So if it’s part of anyone’s culture “let them get on with it”? Where do you stand on FMG, stoning alleged adulterers to death, accusing small children of witch craft, to name but a few things which are part of other people’s culture?

      • the viceroy’s gin

        Well, if the dolphins are practicing FMG, stoning each other for adultery, and accusing their young calves of witchcraft, then I’m against all that.

        On another note, dolphins have been known to murder their own and similar species. I say “murder” as it seems you’re giving the dolphins equal status with humans, so it has to be called murder doesn’t it?

  • Chris Butler-Stroud

    Camilla states that “Perhaps part of the problem is our immediate ability to be offended by things that we know little about.”

    Well she may not know much about the hunt, but I can assure that the technique is cruel and has recently been adopted by Japanese dolphin hunters in Taiji Japan.

    If you can stomach it, watch the video below and still tell me that the hunt is not cruel.

  • swatnan

    A whole whale would be enough to keep these Faroese in meat for a whole year.
    But it would be an environmental disaster. Haven’t these Faroese heard of quorn, or Linda MacCartney veggie whaleburgers?

  • Makroon

    These aggressive “environmental” groups (nobody should call them charities), are direct action anarchists, no different to “Occupy” and “Uncut”, and responsible to nobody. They always pick on vulnerable targets (you won’t see them in the Russian Arctic any time soon).

    • the viceroy’s gin

      …we must be sure to include your husky hugging hero in that envirowhacko mob, eh lad?

  • DavidL

    The article sounds like attention-seeking hogwash. To justify killing whales qs OK because it’s not as bad as shark-fin hunting or over-fishing of tuna, is like saying that burglary’s not really wrong, because it’s much less serious than murder or rape. Over recent decades we have learnt that whales are highly intelligent, social animals, and so most people are against killing them. The Faeroese don’t need to do it, and most people would like them to stop. C’est tout.

    • HookesLaw

      Pigs are I’m told are quite intelligent – but we still eat them. Many countries eat horse meat. Breeding animals for food is not wrong. Hunting vermin is not wrong. It’s up to the faeroese what people think about them although apart from culling I do not think we should hunt whales. They live in nature and are part of an ecosystem.

    • James Strong

      ‘don’t need to do it, and most people would like them to stop. C’est tout.’
      You are more than halfway to totalitarianism there.
      There’s just a bit further to go. How about ‘I would like them to stop’
      Then you could go to ‘I will stop them’.
      Now apply that thinking to your life or the lives of your family and friends.
      Not so appealing, is it?
      To be clear, I think it’s perfectly OK to kill whales for food.

      • DavidL

        Thanks awfully for putting words in my mouth. But there’s really no need. If I’d meant to say “ban them” I would have said ban them. I said “most people would like them to stop”. That’s what I meant to say.

        • James Strong

          Fair enough, maybe I drew the wrong inference.
          I thought you meant that you too, in addition to most people, would like them to stop.
          I am ready to agree with you that ‘most people would like them to stop’.
          I will go further and say that I don’t care what most people would like with regard to this matter.
          I would say to the Faroese, Bon Appetit.

      • Adey May

        But you are not a whale. If you were a whale you may feel differently about the matter.

  • Jez

    Wrong picture above?