At the risk of upsetting many Activists, I’m going to voice my concerns over the recent circus in the Faroe Islands. For those of you unaware, this is the place where they herd pods of mostly long finned pilot whales into beaches, cull them, and the meat and blubber is handed out to the community (called Grindadráp or Grind).
In 2011 I went there with a plan to have volunteers on all the grind beaches and to actively disrupt the whale cull. After a recon trip I rethought plans and made the embarrassing step of calling off the campaign. The trouble I foresaw was an “In your face” campaign I had envisaged would only hinder progress there. Here’s why.
Countries like the USA, Norway, Iceland, Indonesia and Japan still hunt cetaceans legally in their own waters. That it is legal makes intervention difficult. Anyone disputing this should try taking court action In Tórshavn against the grind and see how far you get! I’m not arguing here about moral rights – just legal rights..
If it is a legal activity, then the only way for it to be changed is to have a member of parliament to table a bill proposing changes to the grind laws, and the majority of Parliamentarians to then support the changes.
So as Activists, the question then becomes how do we get members of parliament to table such a bill and vote for it? Well the only answer I can see is because the population wants it – Or a significant percentage of them at least. Their Politicians won’t care if foreigners like the grind or not because foreigners don’t vote.
If you listen to the many Activists, they argue that pressure from Denmark will make this happen. They post images, blogs, video, press releases, all aimed at exerting international pressure onto the Danish government, who will in turn tell the Faroese to stop.
To be blunt, this is nonsense. The Faroe Islands are a valued part of Denmark, the two governments have a very close working relationship, and if the Faroe Islanders are determined to continue with the grind, Denmark’s government will respect this. Keep in mind Norway and Iceland nearby still hunt whales as well. The area is fiercely independent and detests being dictated to by foreign powers, let alone foreign activists.
A series of Whale Wars was filmed there in 2012 with the aim of exerting international pressure on the Faroese Government. In the end nothing happened except it hardened resolve of the whalers. Tourist numbers the following year actually increased and it failed to impact the government or the economy.
The campaign there recently might make a lot of people feel good that they are out there battling the evil Faroese, but it has a detrimental effect on achieving any lasting change. It entrenches the whaling and makes ordinary folk who might consider opposing the grind do the opposite. They would side with hard-core pro-whalers rather than the foreigners who are there pointing fingers and abusing them.
Stopping the grind will take time – Perhaps a generation. And this change will only happen when the Faroese decide it is time. Change will only come from within. Outsiders may be part of, and facilitate, this process, but ultimately it is a Faroese who will make it happen. Some progress is being made. Earthrace Conservation supported a new group “Faroese in favour of Protecting Pilot Whales”, and this now has around 300 members (all Faroese). Small numbers it is true, but a step in the right direction. I’ve spoken in Schools there, and long term the kids may influence their parents or the government. We must play a long game.
Pál Weihe, their Chief Medical Officer has been vocal in opposition of the consumption of whale meat and blubber. Few women and very few children now eat whale meat, mostly because of his campaign regarding mercury and toxins such as persistent organic pollutants.
Those of you considering traveling to The Faroes and battling the locals next year should think carefully about what your “end game” is. You are assuming that external pressure will convince Faroese Politicians to change a law, when I know the opposite will happen. You will make it harder for locals opposed to the grind to voice their opinion as they are labeled as anti-Faroese Activists. It also makes it harder for others such as myself to go in and enter into rational debate with locals and media because we are tarnished with the same brush.
Following this note I’ll get the usual torrent of abuse from people calling me pro-whaler and all sorts of other crap. You are welcome to argue your points but please don’t go into mindless character assassination of me or the Faroese people. If you actually went there and spoke openly to the locals you’d find them warm and intelligent with a strong culture and many admirable qualities. Yes they do still hunt whales and I don’t like that. But Norwegians hunt whales as well and I don’t hate them. Nor do I hate Indonesians, Japanese, Icelanders or Americans.
Please remember too that cultural change will only happen in the fullness of time. How long would it take the US to give up hunting animals, give up their weapons, or give up factory farmed chicken? All might be considered worthwhile goals by some, and yet most people would also agree that to achieve such goals would require considerable time and effort. We may not like it that whales will continue to be hunted in the Faroe Islands, but that is the way it is. We have 2 choices – we can work constructively with the Faroese people and facilitate change, or we can work against them and perhaps ensure whaling continues indefinitely.
I am opposed to the grind. I believe it should be phased out. But achieving this will take time, and it will need locals in the end to want it to happen. I have no problem with fights. These have a time and a place. The Faroe Islands is not one of them.