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Viewpoint / ‘These Faroese are crazy’

Hans Jacob Hermansen.

Following worldwide coverage of the Faroese Grind at the end of last month (including in Shetland News), the former president of the Faroese Pilot Whaler’s Association, Hans Jacob Hermansen, responds to the critics.

So the Faroese did it again!

‘The entire population, undertaking their annual ritual, rushed from one whale bay to the other. In a killing spree, men, women and children partied for days as they merrily went about hacking whales to death for fun.

They slaughtered a few hundred sweet and intelligent marine mammals, who without GPS devices or other nautical assistance had strayed within these barbarians’ territorial waters.

And this is part of the Kingdom of Denmark. They do not need the meat and blubber up there. They can consume products from the supermarket that other civilised people eat; slaughtered behind closed doors without any visible blood to offend sensibilities.’

This is pretty much the impression that many people have after having seen reports from the recent killing of pilot whales in the Faroe Islands. Perhaps their source has been footage from the campaign group Sea Shepherd designed to outrage viewers about this apparently offensive spectacle and getting them to dig deep into their pockets to support the dubious activities of ‘Captain’ Paul Watson and his acolytes.

The Grind - 'it can be a dismaying spectacle with the blood flowing freely into the sea. We cannot hide that from the outside world nor do we try to do so' - Photo: Eliza Muirhead/Sea Shepherd Global

So we have bold headlines and graphic images all disseminated worldwide and amplified many times over by social media. In Anno Domini 2015 we have a phenomena which illustrates the philosopher Herbert Spencer’s (1820-1903) maxim: “Opinion is ultimately determined by the feelings, and not by the intellect”.

Thus we let ourselves get enraged over what we see and experience, or rather: think we see and experience.

We get the latest news served as ready meals and fast food suitably tailored for the purpose. And we consume indiscriminately and get enraged over the cruelty of these barbarians – it makes our blood boil.

As an antidote to this in my capacity of past president and board member for 22 years for the Faroese Pilot Whaler’s Association, whose purpose is and has been to provide information on whale killing, I can state the following facts:

  • The pilot whale is not an endangered species (according to NAMMCO approx. 600,000-800,000 animals in the North Atlantic);
  • Blubber and meat go for human consumption (exploitation: more than 53 per cent of body weight);
  • The killing method is humane (fastest method of killing of wild mammals, both on land and in water, IWC Glasgow 1992);
  • Whaling is regulated (less than 0.3 percent of the stock are caught annually, the reproduction rate is above eight per cent).
  • Pilot whaling and killing methods are evaluated consequently in the Faroe Islands;
  • Pilot whaling is a completely random and non-commercial traditional hunting;
  • With an effective and humane method of killing, we get the best meat/blubber;
  • It is every hunter’s duty, honour and pride to kill any animal as quickly and humanely as possible;
  • We would not kill these animals if the justification was merely based on cultural tradition, and the first three criteria were not satisfied.

Most of what we consume in the western world is killed behind closed doors in specialist slaughterhouses. The animals which are subject to this process are transported to their deaths in special transports from their cells, where they have spent their lives, satisfied and innocent. They have undoubtedly had a good life with a full stomach.

Then we find the food ready-made in supermarkets. For example recently slaughtered battery hens, temptingly wrapped in a purpose-made decorative coffin, ready to cremate and consume.

But this type of mechanical process is unfortunately not possible when a few times a year we take between 50 and 200 pilot whales. And yes, it can be a dismaying spectacle with the blood flowing freely into the sea. We cannot hide that from the outside world nor do we try to do so.

“Opinion is ultimately determined by the feelings, and not by the intellect”.

Our attention and energy is focused 100 per cent on the job in hand during those few minutes a whale killing usually takes. Afterwards there is an evaluation of the operation by the experienced pilot hunters who are all trained in the job.

So is whale killing very different from killing other animals? And are the Faroese so much different from other meat-eating people?

Or should we fall into line with the moralists and hypocrites, wash our hands of the dilemma and shout “Crucify”?

Then let our heritage become neutralised and accessible only in the museums and art galleries where S J Mykines’ masterpieces would take pride of place?

But life goes on. In 2015 how many people really do think about where the animal that they eat has come from, or the killing method employed, while enjoying an exquisite product, possibly with a glass of wine? And how civilised it is to chat on these occasions with friends and neighbours about all sorts of issues and future themes.

The topic of killing pilot whales has the potential for a healthy debate but it would not hurt if it was spiced with a hint of truth. But this is difficult when so many of today’s civilised people seem to gravitate to the famous words: If it is fact, then deny a fact!

These Faroese are still crazy!