Monday, March 21, 2011
I'm not insensitive to animal suffering. I do understand why outsiders are concerned about pilot whaling in the Faroes. But in spite of this, I do not condemn pilot whaling completely. This might seem contradictory to people, who think pilot whaling is absolutely appalling and should be banned right away. But I have some compelling reasons for looking at pilot whaling the way I do, which I'll explain further in this blog post.
I'm NOT for pilot whaling unconditionally. I do acknowledge that environmental pollutants in pilot whale meat - and the fact that some researchers recommend not to use it for human consumption any more - is a major problem, which probably will put an end to pilot whaling eventually. But aside from this, of course, very serious issue - I could accept the continuation of pilot whaling - but just under certain circumstances, which I'll get further into later in this post - but only as long as the Faroese people only kill pilot whales for food (and not as a recreational activity) and do not eat more than what is within safe limits as issued by health authorities - and as long as they are willing to improve their killing methods as much as possible to minimize the animals' suffering - and as long as pilot whaling doesn't endanger the pilot whale as a species.
Sustainable At Least For Half a Millenium
Endangered species must of course be protected, but is the pilot whale endangered? The Faroese have always known that they depended very much on this natural resource, so they've been - and still are - very conscious and aware of that they can't exploit the pilot whale population beyond it's capacity, if they want to keep the 'grinds' coming.
To keep track they've kept a full public record of all whale killings since the 16th century. You won't find such scientific recordings many places in the world, conducted in such a thorough way for such a long time. The Faroese are still making continuous studies of the pilot whale population to prevent over-extraction - and they're very keen on administering their resources as best possible. According to several independent studies made around the world, the pilot whale is not an endangered species, so the Faroese still allow themselves to kill up to around 800 per year on average, which is less than 0,1 % of the whole - estimated - population of 1.000.000. Others claim the number is around 600.000 - but 800 a year is still not a big amount in comparison, even though some would only regard zero killings as satisfactory.
I know this does not convince people in the whale protection movement of which many tend to think that all pro-whaling arguments are just bad excuses for unacceptable human behavior. But this is not true in the Faroese case, in my view.
Like Burgers to Americans
It might seem 'easier' for the Faroese just to stop the pilot whaling. Why not just abandon this practice and thus spare the whales and get the pressure from the outside world off their shoulders? It is hard for outsiders to understand that this long lasting food providing tradition - unbroken in more than a thousand years - was one of the main sources of nutritional food for the Faroese up until only a generation ago. That is why pilot whale meat still is just as 'natural' for most Faroese to eat, just as burgers are for Americans - and just as difficult to abandon.
I do not want to get into an argument here whether the practice of pilot whale killing is any better or worse than the practice of mass breeding domestic animals for food, but people in the Faroes fail to see that meat from the farm industry in other countries could be any better than the meat they are used to eat. The pilot whale meat is - or was - perfectly organic, if it wasn't for the fact that the industrialized world has poisoned our oceans - the living habitat of the whales.
Still More Organic Than Imported Meat
Most of the world - even arctic areas far away from the densely populated industry areas - is polluted. And food production everywhere is "artificialized" or modified to such an extent, that it makes almost any food unhealthy and even dangerous for humans to eat, more or less. The Faroese often also take into consideration that the pilot whales after all do live a free life until just before they die, which can't be said about the domestic animals, from which most of the meat comes, that most people in the world eat.
Bottom line is that people still need food to survive. Hunting and killing not endangered animal species, living in and around the local environment - as untouched by human hands as can be in the world today - still seems to be a better way to provide food for the Faroese in a sustainable way, much less polluting in itself than industrial agriculture or transportation of imported food from far away, is. So I do understand why people in the Faroes want to continue to kill these animals for food, in spite of pollution - rather than keeping a completely unhealthy, unnatural and unsustainable food providing system alive, which only contributes to further destruction of our world.
New Reality Might Make Whaling a Necessity Again
Killing any living creature is no easy task, especially not wild animals - and even more so if we're talking about killing very large wild animals almost with your bare hands in an environment alien to humans: namely seawater. In fact, it is remarkable that this is even feasible and that it can be done as quickly and efficient as it happens, after all. Unfortunately, it is not always possible to avoid animal suffering completely under these circumstances. The blood loss is also very visible in seawater, which makes the killing seem even more dramatic.
But for people living in arctic regions where local resources are scarce, this is considered one of the harsh, but necessary fact of life. They simply do not feel they have many other options, if they want to survive on what's available on site. This is perhaps very hard to imagine for city dwellers living in more hospitable climates, who never have had to face such a reality. But this way of getting enough nutritional food was an absolute necessity for the Faroese until not very long ago - in fact in my life time - and not unlikely, it might become a probable reality again in a future, not so far from now, when scarcity might become much more common again, and the Faroe Islands might become much more cut off and isolated from the outside world than they are now.
This is a serious problem, whish also must be considered. I know that the Faroese have been living a quite modern life for the last 30-40 years or so and are considered to be "rich", where the old way of providing food suddenly didn't seem as necessary or appropriate any more - at least to the outside world. I'ts difficult to imagine that this might change again. Perhaps rapidly. What the outside world doesn't seem to understand is, that the Faroese have almost just entered the modern age - much later than most other people in western societies. (They didn't have TV before the early 80'ies for crying out loud). They've just gotten used to living a modern life - right before this new form of life seems to crumble and fall apart again!
The World After Peak Oil
It's been confirmed by many, that the world might very well have passed peak oil - with dire consequences for everyone living on this planet awaiting just around the corner. The most severe global financial crisis, the world has ever seen, takes place right now. An increasing number of people realize that this is not just a 'normal' recession, but much severer than that. It's a clear consequence of the lasting fact, that oil is no longer as abundant as it was. This will inevitably lead to a scenario where many countries will not have easy access to cheap oil any more. The world might - perhaps much sooner than expected - face a reality, where cheap oil simply is no longer available for everyone.
This situation seems to approach us much faster now than we could imagine just a couple of year ago. The world population passes 7 billion this year and the demand for oil increases faster than we can produce it. Oil producing countries will of course firstly keep the oil, they have left in the ground to themselves, which soon might leave nothing to the oil-importing countries. This is a very frightening outlook for the future - especially for remote lying countries like the Faroe Islands with arctic climate, and thus more dependent on liquid energy than most other countries.
To grasp the seriousness of this issue - as I see it, you might find this interesting:
The Faroes Extremely Oil Dependent
Oil depletion - heavy pollution and climate change - financial crunch... you name it... hits the Faroe Islands hard right now. The Faroe Islands is totally dependent on imported oil, which drives their whole fishing fleet (which is their primary food source and provides more than 95 % of their whole export). The fishing industry hasn't had any surplus for several years and the biggest Faroese fish export company faced bankruptcy a few months ago, as well as one of the two biggest banks on the islands. Unemployment is rapidly rising - it's almost 9 % at the moment. All transportation of people and goods to and from the islands by air or by sea is also a 100 % dependent on oil. It's extremely expensive to travel to and from the islands in comparison (you can fly halfway the world for the same amount from other countries) - and ferry connections to two out of four surrounding countries have already been closed down.
If this alarming development continues, this might soon leave the Faroese with no other option than to return to former ways of survival - or something that resembles. The older generation is, fortunately for the Faroese, still alive. They have kept the inherited knowledge intact and they are able to teach the younger generation, how they managed to survive in the old days, where the Faroese had to rely almost entirely on what was accessible in the surrounding nature.
The Faroes In The Future
I wonder what will become of the Faroese people in the future, if they were prevented by outsiders from getting their food from their local environment. What alternative food provisions are available for the Faroese when oil has become too expensive to afford any more - and they cannot afford to import food in sufficient quantities any longer either? They will have no other options than to use everything they have ... eat the sheep, the fish and the whale meat, which is the only food within reach that they - only just - might be able to provide in sufficient quantities.
They will have to reduce or diminish their living standards quite substantially again, but they have plenty of water, wind, waves and currents, which they can use to produce electricity (right now already around 50 % of Faroese electricity production comes from renewable energy resources) and they can still have sheep grassing in the mountains, run their fish farms close to shore, and pilot whale drivings can be conducted without modern fuel driven boats, using sail- and rowing boats, just as it was done before. It will be a life very different from what the young generation has grown used to right now, but there might probably be no other choice than to accept the new conditions.
You might also google the words "food sovereignty", to understand better, where I'm at.
According to this site: http://www.whyhunger.org/news-and-alerts/why-speaks/553.html - food sovereignty:
- is the right of peoples to define their own food and agriculture
- is the right to protect and regulate domestic agricultural production and trade in order to achieve sustainable development objectives
- is the right to determine the extent to which they want to be self reliant; to restrict the dumping of products in their markets
- is the right of local fisheries-based communities to have priority in managing the use of and the rights to aquatic resources.
- does not negate trade, but rather, it promotes the formulation of trade policies and practices that serve the rights of peoples to safe, healthy and ecologically sustainable production.
Well, let this be my end remarks for now. I hope you understand my viewpoint, even though you might not agree with me.
Posted by Elin Brimheim Heinesen at Monday, March 21, 2011