Each year, entire pods of long finned pilot whales – a species of dolphin – are driven into bays around the coast of the Faroe Islands in a highly organised hunt involving entire communities. Up to 1,000 dolphins are slaughtered each year in the dolphin drives known as ‘grindadraps’. The Faroe Islands – a constituent country of the Kingdom of Denmark – lie in the North Atlantic Ocean, northwest of Scotland and halfway between Iceland and Norway.
Earthrace Conservation, the marine conservation group set up by ‘whale warrior’ Pete Bethune, reports today from their team on the Faroe Islands that even some of the die-hard dolphin drive hunters are beginning to talk of being open to the introduction of a quota to reduce the numbers killed in the annual grinds because of an excess of pilot whale meat and blubber that goes to waste each year as more people stop eating it because of the health risks.”
Research carried out by a team of scientists from Syddansk University Denmark which included Dr Pal Weihe, Chief Physician from the Faroese Department of Occupational Medicine and Public Health, revealed the extensive, long term damage that can be done to humans who consume pilot whale meat and blubber from methyl mercury and polychlorinated biphenyls (PCB’s) stored in the animals. Since publishing the research, Dr Weihe has consistently called on the Faroese Government to introduce a total ban on consumption.
To date, this advice is being ignored although in June this year, the Faroese Food and Veterinary Authority (FFVA) halved the recommended consumption levels from a previous 1998 advisory notice.
A spokesperson for Earthrace Conservation said: “We are here on a peaceful mission to establish how widespread knowledge is amongst the Faroese of the major health risks to humans is of eating pilot whale meat and blubber.
“We know from figures provided by the Faroes’ own whaling website (www.whaling.fo) that around 500 tons of meat and blubber are sourced through the grinds on an annual basis which if shared equally amongst the entire population of 50,000 Faroese, would work out at 10kg per head per year. The Government recommendations say that 4kg per adult per year is the maximum quantity that should be consumed.
“If you reduce the numbers of Faroese still consuming it on a regular basis to take account of the majority of young women, young mothers and children who no longer eat the food because of the proven health risks, and those in the bigger towns and cities further away from the dolphin drives themselves who also rarely eat it, it’s clear that either there is massive over- supply of pilot whale produce that is going to waste, or that a small number of Faroese are putting their health in grave danger by consuming very large quantities of this highly toxic food.”
The small Earthrace Conservation team have been speaking to people who are actively involved in the grinds and at least three or four of the hunters have confirmed that unwanted meat and blubber does get dumped – from freezers where it has been stored since the previous year’s grinds to be replaced by new stock; or that if individual dolphin drives look as though they will result in an excess, then sometimes the bodies of the pilot whales are simply weighted down and sunk without being butchered for the meat.
The Earthrace spokesperson said, “These same people have said to us that although they believe they should be allowed to continue the grinds, in view of the wastage and the health risks combined they would understand if the Government were to bring in a quota to reduce the overall numbers of pilot whales allowed to be killed each year.
“This is a major breakthrough and one that we hope the Faroese Government will look into and consider. Whilst we’d like to see the grinds stop immediately, that was never going to happen. They are too entrenched in the culture of the country and are carried out by people who won’t be bullied by outsiders.
“Ultimately, however, we believe that it is the health risks to humans posed by the pilot whale meat and blubber rather than any international condemnation or physical interference with the grinds themselves that will eventually bring an end to them altogether. If they’re not being hunted for food, there can’t be any justification for continuing the grinds.”
In a testament to their peaceful, non-aggressive approach, the Earthrace team who had previously been vetoed from talking to Government Ministers, the media and school students, welcomed a statement from the Prime Minister of the Faroe Islands, Kaj Leo Holm Johannesen, this week in which he said, “Now when people have come from abroad to protest the grind, we should also remember that we treasure freedom of speech and writing highly. We support an open and democratic society, where people have the right to disagree. People have a right to protest.”
Dr Pal Weihe, Chief Physician from the Faroese Department of Occupational Medicine and Public Health, has carried out extensive research with a team from Syddansk University Denmark.
Their results show that:
• Mercury from pilot whale meat adversely affects the fetal development of the nervous system; The mercury effect is still detectable during adolescence
• The mercury from the maternal diet affects the blood pressure of the children
• The contaminants of the blubber adversely affect the immune system so that the children react more poorly to immunizations
• Contaminants in pilot whales appear to increase the risk of developing Parkinson’s disease in those who often eat pilot whale
• The risk of hypertension and arteriosclerosis of the carotid arteries is increased in adults who have an increased exposure to mercury
• Septuagenarians with type 2 diabetes or impaired fasting glycemia tended to have higher past intake of traditional foods (such as pilot whale) during childhood and adolescence, and higher concentrations of polychlorinated biphenyls (PCB’s).
Faroes Government Recommendations from the Faroese Food and Veterinary Authority
Adults should eat at most one meal of pilot whale meat and blubber per month. (One meal is calculated as an amount of 250 grams of meat and 50 grams of blubber (raw, unprocessed). This equates to no more than 4kg per year.
• Special recommendations for women and girls:
– 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.
Full statement from the Prime Minister of the Faroe Islands, Kaj Leo Holm Johannesen: http://www.facebook.com/notes/pete-bethune/response-from-faroese-prime-m…