Thursday, August 26, 2010

Secret Sea Shepherd mission... chicks with sticks, surfers 4 cetaceans and an eco adventure to save the pilots of the faroes

I am writing this aboard an unmarked Sea Shepherd vessel, patrolling around the Faroe Islands. Our mission began as a secret operation but since then the locals, customs, police and navy have all been involved so Captain Paul Watson has ousted us from covert to overt and we are now flying the “jolly roger” flag proud. Whether we have been in the news back in the UK, is unbeknownst to me!

I joined the Sea Shepherd campaign in the Shetlands, with Howie Cooke of non profit org. Surfers 4 Cetaceans. A lone surfer representing Chicks with Sticks; together we are a mismatched duo standing up for Surfers 4 Cetaceans everywhere. I received the invitation in my electronic mailbox –

“Was I up for a secret mission to save cetaceans in the North Sea?”

“Hell yeah!” Was my response. A month later I was travelling to the most Northern islands of Scotland to meet up with the Golfo Azzurro who had already had a week sailing around the Faroes on her way from Holland.

The Faroes are a group of remote islands in the North Sea, owned by Denmark; a self governing nation who have a sadistic secret pastime. Each year they kill hundreds of beautiful pilot whales in a twisted, testosterone fuelled “rite of passage”. The kills are called “Grinds”, and are spontaneous massacres of whales who come into shallower waters to give birth to their calves. Once a pod of whales are spotted out to sea, they are herded by fishing boats and unnerving sound devices into fjords so they are beached on the beaches of the fishing villages. Traditionally the men prove their masculinity by using hooks through the blowholes of the defenceless whales and cutting off their heads. The corpses are then collected and discarded back into the ocean.

We have found dead bodies, bones and whale graveyards; but there has been no sighting of any live pilots whales. There are meant to be approximately 800,000 pilot whales in these waters. We are worried they have killed them all. Although without whales, no Grind can take place, so for that at least we are thankful. We patrol the inlets and pray that if whales are seen we can get there first, herding them back out to sea and making sure we intervene before it’s too late.

We have been all over the Faroese news; every fishing port we pull into posts our coordinates on a website, and car headlights and twitching curtains keep track of our every move. We have been boarded by police, searched by customs and followed by the navy… we are definitely not welcome here!

I’m not sure I like this place, the landscape is dramatic, beautiful waterfalls cascade into the sea from volcanic, jade cliffs; caverns, and caves protrude in and out of jagged rock faces. It is majestic, yet cold, hard, prehistoric; a forgotten land devoid of soul.

I’m pretty sure I will arrive on shore unrecognisable. I’m eating the best vegan food, thanks to Laura the amazing cook and with no action and no whales, eating is the most popular past time aboard.

There a dozens of beautiful seabirds following our journey in the hope of some fish being up for grabs. But the absence of sea mammals is chilling, for centuries these islands and their inhabitants have raped the ocean of abundant life, whilst claiming their practices are sustainable. Are we too late to save the pilot whale?


  1. ''Traditionally the men prove their masculinity by using hooks through the blowholes of the defenceless whales and cutting off their heads.'' THAT'S NOT TRUE!!
    It's not to be masculine.. and we don't cut off the heads!

  2. You make me sick with your lies. The Faroese people do not cut of the head and discard the bodies you stupid twit. That is FOOD for those people. Food for people that live on an island where their food comes from the sea. You are disgusting in your misinformation. I bet if Watson told you that eating whale shit made it so you could breath underwater you'd be the first to try it. READ A BOOK, learn something. Watson is a liar and a fraud.

  3. The author asks, "Are we too late to save the pilot whale?" A better question would be, 'does the Grind pose a threat to the pilot whale'? The author shows an underwhelming depth of understanding wrt the pilot whale, the Faroese people, and the grind in general.

    She says, " There are meant to be approximately 800,000 pilot whales in these waters. We are worried they have killed them all."
    That population estimate applies more to the central and northeastern North Atlantic, rather than the local waters around the Faroe Islands(Buckland et al. 1993). Local population in Faroese waters is closer to 100K (Buckland et al. 1993; NAMMCO 1997)
    She has been grossly misinformed by Mr Watson if she believes that the pilot whales are killed for sport or rite of passage and discarded. They are killed for food, and this hunt poses far less threat to the population that does incidental bycatch.
    From IUCN Red List:
    " The only current fishery for long-finned pilot whales is undertaken in the Faroe Islands and Greenland. Although this fishery has been actively pursued since the 9th century, catch levels have apparently not caused stock depletion, such as occurred off Newfoundland. Catch statistics exist from the Faroes since 1584, unbroken from 1709 to today, showing an annual average catch of 850 pilot whales (range: 0 - 4,480) with a cyclic variation according to the North-Atlantic climatic variations (Bloch and Larstein 1995). The IWC, ICES and NAMMCO have concluded, that with an estimated subpopulation size of 778 000 (CV=0.295) in the eastern North Atlantic and approximately 100 000 around the Faroes (Buckland et al. 1993; NAMMCO 1997) the Faroese catch is probably sustainable. In Greenland, catches are relatively small."