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Conservation groups call for an end to Faroe Island whale hunts
A fishing boat spots a school of long-finned pilot whales off the Faroe Islands in Europe. Within minutes, the small whales are herded onto the nearest shore, local islanders are signaled and a hunt begins.
Every year hundreds of pilot whales are slaughtered off the Faroe Islands, a territory of Denmark, which are located about 200 miles northwest of Scotland in the North Atlantic. Over the past week, 150 whales have been killed in the area, conservation groups report.
It's never easy to be the little guy.
As a "small cetacean", the pilot whale is not covered by the regulations of the International Whaling Commission. For years, there has been much debate as to whether or not smaller species of whales and dolphins should be included under the auspice of the commission, which has banned commercial whaling since 1986. Under IWC rules, subsistence whaling is permitted in Denmark, Greenland, the Russian Federation, St, Vincent and the Grenadine Islands in the Caribbean and the United States.
"We think that having the IWC's scientific and management expertise covering all whales is a critical issue," said Karen Steuer, the director of commercial exploitation and trade of wild animals for the International Fund for Animal Welfare. "Smaller whales, which are often subject to unsustainable hunts are falling through the cracks."
Faroese hunters claim the practice of killing pilot whales is an age-old communal, noncommercial hunt aimed at meeting the community's need for whale meat and blubber. "It all looks quite violent but each animal is dealt with so fast that the pain is brief," the Danish Embassy states, noting that the animal is not considered an endangered species.
Conservationists say the practice is outdated, cruel and unnecessary for a place with one of the highest standards of living in Europe.
Paul Watson, the founder and executive director of Sea Shepherd International has observed the Faroese whale hunts first hand.
"They literally saw through the animal's spine to kill them," Watson said. "People tend to drink a lot and it’s a big party akin to the Roman gladiator games. There is no place for this in the modern world."
Watson said it is not uncommon for 100 whales to be slaughtered at a time.
"The Faroese are wiping out entire pods and family groups," he notes. "The number of North Atlantic long-finned pilot whales is unknown and they are listed as 'strictly protected' by the Convention on the Conservation of European Wildlife and Natural Habitats. Aside from the barbarism and pointlessness of the act, such a practice is a direct threat to genetic diversity. They are removing building blocks from the gene pool of the species and damaging the web of life in the North Atlantic and the North Sea."
While the Danish embassy states that the whale meat accounts for a quarter of the islanders' annual meat consumption, conservation groups claim most of the whales go to waste.
"Many whales are left to rot on the beach or are thrown back to sea after they are killed," said Andrew Christie, the director of the American Chapter of Sea Shepherd.
Pilot whales have the highest level of mercury contamination of any cetacean, Christie adds. By law, the islanders are only allowed to eat whale meat once every two weeks.
For years, Sea Shepard has been trying to put economic pressure on the Faroe Islands in order to stop the whale hunt.
Their efforts are gaining momentum. The organization has convinced over 20,000 grocery stores in Germany not to carry Faroese seafood products. Since large oil deposits have recently been discovered near the Faroe Islands, Sea Shepard is also targeting oil companies to sanction the Danish protectorate.
Still many other conservation groups, including the International Fund for Animal Welfare, have not made small cetaceans, such as the pilot whales a high priority. "We all have limited resources and we have to put out the fires where we can," Steuer said.
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