Open letter to Faroe Islanders: Please stop the slaughter of whales and dolphins

It looks like Photoshopped fake news. It’s that unreal. Images of men in the shallows driving knives into thrashing animals. Slaughtered whales and dolphins floating in bays and lined up along the shore. Seas turned blood red.

Faroe Island locals—not all but enough of them to keep this profanity going—defend their massacres of whales and dolphins as “ancient tradition” and “aboriginal hunting.” They call it the Grindadrap hunt, mostly known as “the Grind” having suffered the embarrassment of modernity’s proclivity for abbreviation.

Faroe Islanders try to veil the gruesomeness of the Grind with self-righteous overtures to indigeneity and tradition. We are supposed to look at the images of these bloodbaths and behold reenactments from legendary days of yore when virile Norsemen courageously procured fodder for their communities. When we see Faroe Island children along the shores or participating in the hunt or making a game of jumping on cetacean corpses, we are supposed to see children being mentored into a time-honored rite, learning firsthand the ways of their ancient indigenous culture.

Indigenous people, with their animist and Earth-loving cosmologies, recognize fellow nonhumans as kin; they recognize them as people or as nations onto themselves. How does driving a hook into a whale or dolphin blowhole, as though the tender flesh of their breathing passage offers a convenient hole for hooking, to drag them to shallow waters and slice and stab them alive with sharp implements—how does that align with regarding and treating nonhumans as our kin and as peoples?

With apologies for repeating the obvious: these beings are wide-awake in the world. They are fully aware, body and mind, during the entire trial of the Grind of the horror that is happening to them and their fellows. They are aware in the manner that human beings would be aware in the same circumstances.

To massacre animals in this way is not what indigenous humans would do. On the contrary, the Grind is more akin to what Western vivisectionists did when they cut into living animals in the name of science. Faroe islanders do the same, under more turbulent, uncontrolled circumstances, in the name of tradition.

The parallel with vivisection goes beyond methodology. Vivisectionists operated under the Cartesian spell that animals’ screams and extraordinary anguish were but the reflexes of automata. The butchering of living whales and dolphins exhibits a similar dissociation. The perpetrators of the Grind have to believe that it is “just animals” they are hooking, stabbing, and slicing open. If the humans permitted themselves to feel what is happening—what they themselves would experience were they in the animals’ place—how could they do such a thing or countenance it? They could not, unless they were sadists. We do not believe that sadism is at work here. The perpetrators of the Grind, doers and supportive bystanders, have lost their sight, their hearts, and their capacity for empathy to the affliction of human supremacy.

The Faroe Islanders who defend the Grind (and we recognize that many of them oppose it) claim that their method of meat procurement is morally superior to industrial meat production, where animals are treated abysmally in industrial environments, processed as though they are objects, offered neither respect nor gratitude.

However, comparing the cruelty of the Grind to the cruelty of industrial animal agriculture as a way to exonerate the Grind is a pitiable argument. Nor do we see, after the Grind’s execution, indigenous Faroe Island ceremonies offering thanksgiving on blood-drenched shores strewn with corpses: indeed, any such ritual fanfare would be utterly grotesque in the wake of the horror, so thankfully we are spared.

More directly to the point, Faroe Islanders are simply wrong to believe that they stand on higher moral ground by comparison to industrial meat production. For if corralling wild and free beings—who have families, cultures, and traditions of their own—and massacring them in such a gruesome way is supposed to be acceptable to humanity, then virtually anything can be done to farm animals (especially behind closed doors) who enjoy far less charisma, to say the least, than wild cetaceans.

Thus, not only does the Grind not morally outstrip industrial meat production, it tightly allies with it by affirming—in a spectacular and grisly manner, to boot—that cruelty to animals is acceptable. The Grind upholds the convenient human delusion that animals are not self-aware subjects, who experience and witness the terror that they and their loved ones are subjected to. The Grind perpetuates the sham that they are “nothing but animals,” so humans can do whatever they want to them.

And the Grind massacres them all—males, females, pregnant females, and children whales and dolphins. How can such atrocity be whitewashed as “aboriginal tradition”? It is exactly the opposite: it is akin to massacres that colonialist settler cultures did to indigenous humans, time and again, in the course of history.

The Faroe Islanders defend the Grind as a historical heritage of their largely self-sufficient way of life. Their nationalist pride for these hunts no doubt spurred their rejection of Sea Shepherd’s offer of some 1 million euros yearly, for ten consecutive years, to stop killing cetaceans. Yet this offer is a supplication to end the heinous infliction of physical and psychological trauma on the animals, on the human perpetrators themselves, on their children, and on the rest of us forced to witness such scenes and grieve for the animals and for the benighted condition of humanity on this abused planet.

If Faroe Islanders are so proud of their hunts, then why did locals fear that the latest record slaughter of 1,428 dolphins on September 12, 2021, “would revive debate and put a negative spin on an ancient tradition”? If Faroe Islanders worry over their ancient tradition being witnessed, how can they also claim to be proud of it? Indeed, if Faroe Islanders take pride in butchering whales and dolphins alive, why don’t they organize festivities around the corpses and offer flowers into the bays? If Faroe Islanders are so proud of their ancient tradition, why do they go out of their way to hide slain pregnant animals from camera’s view?

Because in their hearts Faroe Islanders know that these hunts belong to the dustbin of history, along with such ancient traditions as burning witches, slave and child labor, and human sacrifice. With our open letter, joining so many people worldwide deeply shaken by the latest carnage, we plead with you in the name of love for this Earth and all her beings to let the September 12 hunt be your last slaying of our whale and dolphin kin.

Read an ‘Open letter to Faroe Islanders: Please stop the slaughter of whales and dolphins’, by the Editors of the #EarthTongues blog