That Faroese whale hunt: Amplification and correction

Dávur í Dali, a social sciences student at the University of the Faroe Islands, offers this friendly correction to our post about how Paul Watson’s TV attack on the Faroese pilot whale hunt backfired:

I am writing to you to correct a small misunderstanding in one of your posts on the Faroe Islands pilot whale hunt. Your post implies that we actively hunt whales, as someone would hunt deer or similar game. This is not correct.

The whale hunts are not prepared or planned events. They happen when we sight a pod of whales swimming through our fjords or in general vicinity of land. Such sightings happen only a couple of times per year, and even then hunts are not successful every time. What really happened when [Watson’s vessel] Brigit Bardot was here is that, by mere chance, there simply weren’t any whale pods spotted. Had whale pods been spotted, there would have been hunts, regardless of Brigit Bardot’s presence. There was no conscious effort put into avoiding whale hunts or the Brigit Bardot.

I would appreciate it if you corrected the error, because I feel it is important to stress that we hunt passively, rather than actively.

In response to my further questions, Dávur explained:

Anyone and everyone can participate in the hunt. If they want to, they can go to where a whale hunt is happening and join in where there is a loose end. The practice is intrinsically communal in that way, and also in that the food resulting from the hunts is always equally divided among the people who participated in the hunt. If the hunt is big enough, it is even dealt out indiscriminately to anyone who wants it, and to nursing homes etc. As I said in my previous email, the whale hunts are far from everyday events.

I do not participate in the whale hunt myself, by choice, and I am not affiliated with any of the people appointed to oversee them. I contacted you because, sadly, there is a lot of misinformation about our whale hunt out on the internet, be it honest misunderstandings or intentional lies, that can hurt my nation’s image. I do what I can, and try to correct it when I come across it.

Backfire in Watson’s whale wars – updated

When Paul Watson, the Canadian who heads the Sea Shepherd Society, attempted to disrupt a traditional pilot whale harvest on the Faroe Islands last year, canny local fishermen postponed the event until no whales appeared until after the HMS Brigit Bardot weighed anchor and departed the tiny country’s waters. (See further update here.)

This deprived Watson of gory footage for a TV series celebrating his latest charismatic crusade. Still, when the four-part series aired on US cable channels this spring, Faroese government officials braced for a backlash.

What they got was something quite different: a flood of tourism inquiries. The documentary’s B-roll footage of the spectacular Faroese countryside and coastline apparently inspired awe among nature-loving viewers, many of whom wanted to know how to get there.

“We have not had any negative influence from the whale war show,” wrote Industry Minister Johan Dahl, whose cabinet responsibilities include tourism, in an email to Contrarian. “Rather the opposite: Tourist and traveller figures are up.

A source in the tourism ministry said inquiries spiked immediately after Watson’s video aired.

The Faroes, population 48,700, are a self-governing protectorate of Denmark, with a combined area of 1,399 square km. or about one-seventh the size of Cape Breton. They are hard to reach from Canada–via year-round flights from Copenhagen and Reykjavik, and seasonal flights from England and Scotland–but definitely worth the effort.

And you think OUR legislature has a history?

In the last few years, I’ve made several business trips to the Faroe Islands, a rocky archipelago that rises spectacularly from the North Atlantic, about halfway between Iceland and Scotland. The population of 48,917 is about one-third of Cape Breton’s; the land area of 1,399 square km barely tops that of Richmond County, NS.

Search Google Images for “Faroe Islands,” and you’ll turn up dozens of photos far more beautiful than the snapshot below, of a rocky point known as Tinganes that sticks into the harbour at Torshavn, the country’s* largest town. Tinganes sits two blocks from the hotel where I stay, and there’s a reason I walk out to it on every visit.


On this spot in the year 999, island chieftans gathered for the first meeting of the Faroese Løgting, or parliament. The islands have seen many changes in the centuries since this historic gathering, but the Løgting still meets, 1012 years later, in a modest building just up the hill from where I snapped this photo Thursday.

This is apparently not the record for world’s oldest parliament, but it’s right up there. For a resident of the province that claims Canada’s oldest responsible legislative body, at 153 years, it seems a milestone worth noting.

Today, the Løgting has 33 MPs, split among six political parties, the largest of which holds only eight seats. There are rumblings this week of a seventh party, as a prominent MP threatens to bolt the Fólkaflokkurin, or Conservative Party, one of three parties making up the shaky ruling coalition.

* Technically, the Faroe Islands constitute a semi-autonomous “constituent country” of the Kingdom of Denmark, with whom it shares a long, disputatious history (see: rape, pillage). Standard Faroese political theory attributes the large number of parties in the Løgting to the overlay of two distinct political spectrums: left vs. right, and those favoring total independence from Denmark vs. those favouring union with the colonial overseer.