“Grindadrap”: The fight between tradition and animal rights
The Faroe Islands have caught the eyes of animal rights activists this year, as their whaling tradition hit record high numbers this month. This hunt, known as “grindadrap” or simply, “the grind,” involves surrounding a pod of pilot whales on boat and coaxing them into a fjord where they are killed on the beach. This year, in a one-day hunt, fishermen participating in the hunt killed nearly 1500 long-finned pilot whales.
This tradition dates back to 9th century Norse settlements in the area. The Faroes, now a territory of Denmark, have allowed this tradition to continue, adding regulations through the years such as who is permitted to partake in the hunt and when the whales may be killed. The whale was a staple in the Norse diet, as the meat could be distributed throughout settlements and the blubber could be used as oil or for medicinal purposes. The skin of the whales was used to make ropes and even the penis was dried and used to make shoes (Marine Hunters). The early Norse did not allow a single bit of the animal to go to waste, finding a use for the entire whale.
Since the 9th century, while the concept and methods of the hunt have remained the same, the tools have greatly advanced. Now, fishermen use modern boats and communication devices, allowing them to more efficiently maneuver and capture larger pods. The government now requires whales to be killed in a certain way, banning harpoons for not being humane. Instead, a rod is used to sever the spinal cord when a whale is beached, making for an instant death. Given the advances in technology, the numbers from the hunt constantly increase, this year being the largest one-day hunt in recorded history, dating back to 1584.
In the last century, the Faroe Islands have been split into whaling districts, and after each hunt, the meat is distributed equally amongst the households of the district. But no longer is the entire animal used, as people now mainly consume just the meat for food and use the blubber for oil. The tradition is still maintained to an extent, however, whale is no longer a staple for anything other than food now.
The battle between tradition and animal rights brings to mind the case of Spanish bullfighting. This long-standing tradition predates the grindadrap by two centuries, having roots in gladiator battles. Bullfights involve a picador or matador who confuse, taunt, and spear the animal in front of an arena. Some believe that these fights are a staple to the culture and thus must be kept, others argue that the practice is cruel to the animals. This has led to the ban of bullfighting in certain regions of Spain, while it is still practiced to this day in others.
Now, a key distinction must be made between bullfighting in Spain and whaling in the Faroe Islands. The whales killed in the grindadrap are killed humanely and are not taunted before their death, nor are they kept captive for long periods of time like animals in factory farms. Additionally, this is not a spectator event, as those on the shores are the very men who kill and butcher the animals.
The grindadrap to this day provides meat and resources to the people of the Faroe Islands, but due to the sheer volume of the latest hunts, has raised serious concerns as to the extent the fishermen may go in efforts to preserve tradition.
Melanie Moyer '22,