About halfway between Norway and Iceland sits a chain of land called Faroe Islands. The island chains consists of eighteen land masses totaling approximately 407 miles (655km) with a total population of approximately 50,000 people. Upon approaching the island, one might see quaint Dutch villages bursting with European color and flair dotting the pristinely green, rugged landscape. The sky and water are a crisp icy blue to match their temperate climate. The islands are considered part of Denmark with unique various sovereignty rights. One such right involves their ability to conserve, manage, and maintain living marine resources along their designated 200 miles (321km) of waterways set aside as fisheries zones.
The primary economy of the area is fish. In 1996 the Faroe Islands boasted that their fishery techniques where so advanced that they were able to ensure biological and economical sustainability to the wild-caught fishery industry. While this might look good to some on paper, it looks far sketchier when one of the species of marine life they are harvesting is the pilot whale.
To understand the intricate sociology of pilot whales is as an illusive a task as that of sharks. Professional marine researchers and the top oceanographers from around the world in 2011 could not articulate on the condition of the pilot whales’ ecological stability. So how is it that the residents of the Faroe Islands boasted more than a decade earlier that they could maintain a thriving pilot whale ecosystem, when there is no reasonable way to measure the stability of the species?
What is known about pilot whales is that they beach themselves en mass. This behavior is not fully understood by humans who study them. It is suspected that the fate of one is the fate of the entire pod because of their social bonds. Though this practice remains unclear, the pattern of behavior is documented well enough for Faroe Island fisheries to exploit the knowledge. This allows the residents to annually slaughter approximately 1,000 whales. The islanders understand that if they scare and misdirect the social leaders of a pod and drive them into the shoreline that the rest of the pod will follow.
Pilot whales are warm-blooded, air breathing cetacean mammals. They live in tightly knit nuclear family units that rival humans. Such an example would be how elder female pilot whales are handled within their communities. The elder females experience menopause. When this happens it has been documented that these females are not cast out of their pods for their age or the lack of their breeding capabilities. It is believed these females are revered and respected within their family units.
A video was released which displays what the Faeroese people consider their advanced technological solution for the economical sustainability of the whale ecosystem. The video shows speedboats scaring hundreds of pilot whales to the beach where the town folk hook and bash in their brains so skillfully that the sand and water goes red inside four minutes.
With respect toward the Faeroese’s Norse heritage and the understandable importance of their fishery industry, one cannot abate the knowledge in hand. These residents know next to nothing about the various factors involving the pragmatic survival rate of pilot whales. This resonates an undesirable question to slink across the brain. Who is the actual animal on the beach?
For those interested in making their voices heard for the continued survival of pilot whales there are a number of petitions listed below the video feed. The video does not automatically play and should not be viewed by the young or faint of heart.
Share the wonder of whales with your friends and family to better understand their important function in the ecosystem: Whales - An Unforgettable Journey