Category: social media

Bloody Vikings, Faroese whales and mercury

. How on earth can Faroese people slaughter whales like that? A bloody cove, neat lines of dead fish along a red beach, kids sitting on a whale whilst Mum takes a photo.


You’ve seen the images haven’t you, they’ve been doing the rounds on social media. I shared the images. ‘Be careful with this’ said a friend. The Faroese people are far closer to the sea and nature than we are.

That stopped me in my ‘people need to know about these things’ track.

Why did I share the bloody cove from the dozens of emails, petitions and good causes that I receive daily?

I tell you what got me. It was the kid sitting on the dead whale like he was riding a wooden horse at a fair whilst his mum was taking a picture; then reading that young untrained Faroese men use a hook to get the whales onto the beach, so the animals suffer from this ancient ritual, this right of passage that has not changed, allegedly, since Viking times.
What got me further was that their own governments have told Faroese islanders not to eat the meat more than once a month because it’s too contaminated. So if they can’t eat it anyway, why on earth are they still killing the animals? What do they do with all that meat anyway?

Thing is, are these the real questions? 

Why is their fish so badly contaminated when they live in some of the cleanest waters on earth?
What will Faroese people do without their salted local fish, their winter protein and fat stash?

What do we – westerners, oft judgmental and let’s face it sometimes misinformed – know about this archipelago not that far from the Scottish shores yet close enough to Iceland?

The Faroese people have been advised by their government to only eat pilot whale once a month because it has high levels of mercury so is dangerous for human consumption. Pregnant women must not eat it for fear of damaging their unborn baby’s brain forever.

How did the mercury get there? 

No-no-no said my friend who, like all farmers, knows a thing or two about chemistry. We don’t use mercury anymore, it’s dangerous. I know, we don’t have it in thermometers anymore, but it’s still being used. So I referred him to the Royal Society of Chemistry who tell us that mercury is still widely used to make advertising signs, pesticides, dental work or batteries. English farmer friend shook his head in disbelief.

There is no way the Faroe Islands will be at the top of the list of nations that pollute the most. (I realise the Faroe Islands are not really a nation but that’s beside the point, let’s get back to that bloody cove).

Let’s forget the blood for a minute

Abattoirs don’t give us photos of the rivers of red stuff they generate and have to dispose of when they butcher our Sunday roasts; or the mince for our burger chains. Yes I know, out in the open, blood is a shocking sight. And I fell for it. Even my friend who hunts shared the photos, and he knows a bit more about killing than I do. I just eat the stuff, I don’t kill it.

1000 whales. How many fish fingers in the UK, Europe, the World?

The Faroese are a sea nation, as are the British. 95% of the total Faroese goods export is fishery products, we’ve probably eaten some of their farmed salmon.

Yet when I read untrained young men slaughter around 1,000 pilot whales per year, my western brain imagined our city teenagers let loose with a large hook. Not a pretty sight. I wasn’t really thinking of the Faroese boys who are likely to have gone fishing with their fathers and brothers from a very young age, who understand fishing, who respect the sea and its produce and fish once a year to provide protein and fat for the whole year.

The Faroese government have introduced new regulations to ensure that the pilot whales caught are killed as quickly as possible (a spinal lance, killing time 1-2 seconds) by fishermen who have attended a certified course of instruction in the current whaling regulations. That’s a either a step in the right direction or the government adding paperwork because they’ve been asked, yet again, to regulate. That old balancing act.

We still have the issue that whales are being killed. They’re probably endangered as most big mammals are these days, right? Wrong. Several websites estimate the long-finned pilot whale population to around one million. Pilot-whales are not mentioned on the WWF list of endangered cetaceans. Whether whaling is right or wrong is another matter.

According to their website, the WWF are not trying to stop whaling, they aim to end uncontrolled commercial whaling. Whilst we’re busy pointing the finger at the Faroe Island’s bloody coves, we want people to shop local. The fish caught in Weymouth was going to Spain when I last spoke to a fisherman, a couple of years ago (2012). I wonder how much mercury there was in that fish.

Thousands of people will have seen the bloody pictures from the Faroe Islands. Very few will come across this post, let alone read it all the way down to here. Thank you for being one of the few. Maybe like me you’ll now wonder why we keep coming across this tiny island and its fishing practice, yet the full content of the fish -or the fish fingers- we feed our children is something we know so little about.