Monday, September 13, 2010

The pilot whale kill that went wrong

The pilot whale killings, which have taken place in the Faroe Islands this summer, especially the one in Klaksvík, which a member of the Sea Shepherd organization claims he witnessed "under cover" and reported about to the world media, have, once again, created worldwide outrage and generated tons of protests from all over the world – also from a row of NGO’s.

This does, of course, instill respect, because these are powerful organizations with the means to influence a lot of people in the world.  That is precisely why it’s a shame that some of the allegations in their protest are simply incorrect, while others are questionable, but that is expected, because they are based on beliefs. Nevertheless, it makes it difficult to have a fruitful dialogue holding beliefs against each other. When two sides have different beliefs, it is therefore even more essential to stick to the facts and get them right. It is also essential to separate facts from beliefs and emotions.

Sea Shepherd tactics 
It was the report from Peter Hammarstedt, Sea Shepherd activist, from the Klaksvík kill, which triggered the current reactions. But as almost always when it comes to Sea Shepherd, their reports are exaggerated and emotionally manipulative – for instance the claim that baby whales are cut out from their mother's bodies and just left to rot... When one's errand is first and foremost to make anti whaling propaganda, graphic and dramatic sounding examples like these are always very effective, especially if you want to get people really agitated and angry. But it is not true that the baby whales are left to rot. Yes, they are cut out of their dead mothers bodies and are killed like all the other whales in the group. Sounds harsh, yes, but it is done, because - except from the bones and intestines - they are used just as everything else from the whales.

Another explanation
However, the way this particular whale kill in Klaksvík was carried out was not acceptable...! I was not at the site, but I've seen TV footage from the whale kill – and it didn't look pretty! I’m not insensitive and I understand perfectly why people would be outraged by what they saw on TV. As a matter of fact: the Faroese people are generally opposed to whale killings carried out like this. They agree that incidents like this must never happen again.

I'm not making excuses for this kill, because I would, personally, never applaud any kind of unnecessary brutality myself. I’m just trying to explain, because I think it is important to understand why it happened – and not just judge the whalers as evil maniacs that enjoy torturing whales, because that is not the case. 

It is important to understand that these people regard pilot whales as a food resource. You might disagree with this viewpoint, but the whalers are carrying out a job, which in their own view is pretty much the same job, a butcher carries out in a slaughterhouse – only in a different, more difficult environment.

What went wrong?
What made this particular kill more difficult than usual was that the Klaksvík bay has been changed because of stone fillings on one side of the bay. This meant that it was hard for the whalers to get all the whales to beach themselves on the sand beach – like they usually do – where it would have been much easier to make a swift kill. Some of the whales where caught in deep water by the stone fillings where some whalers had to use quite forceful methods to pull some of the whales up onto the stones to get them killed.

What people might not understand is that it is almost impossible to kill a whale in deep water where you can't stand firmly on the bottom. That is why they dragged the whales up unto the stones. The problem was that it was almost impossible to do this, which caused the whales to be harmed. This is not an incident, which happens normally – but as I understand it, the whalers did what they did in desperation, because of the impossible circumstances to make a proper quick kill.
It was not possible in this case neither to move the whales to shallower water or let the whales go free, because the whales will swim right back into their deaths, since their instinctive urge is to stay with their group. Sad, but true. This must, of course, have seemed quite dramatic – especially to an outsider, who has a whole other view on whales and does not know, that this is NOT the normal way of carrying out a pilot whale kill.

Not a normal kill
Outsiders don’t know that this was not a normal whale kill. It went wrong – not all together, but for some of the whales. Most whales in the kill beached themselves on the sand beach and were killed in a swift way as they normally are. It was very unfortunate that a few of the whales did not swim up onto the beach, but where caught by the stones.

Unfortunately, incidents like this happen, but very rarely. There is a slight risk that things can go wrong during a hunt – like in hunting of any wild animals. If it happens in the last moments of a kill, there seems to be no way, entirely, to avoid some force – or  'brutality' – to get the kill done as quickly as possible. And this is sadly what happened this time.

It was unfortunate, first and foremost for the whales caught by the stones... but also for the Faroese people, because of course the news spread throughout the world immediately – and the story is used everywhere right now by the anti whaling campaigners as proof of the Faroese whaler's brutality – to anger people all over the world and make them boycott the Faroes.

The Faroese want to prevent this from happening again 
I for my self think, that the kill should never have been allowed to take place in this particular bay... Now we at least know – what the whalers obviously didn’t anticipate – that there is a risk in this particular bay that some of the whales might make a sudden turn in the last moment and swim towards the stone fillings and not the beach.

People in the Faroes worry about this and have been discussing it eagerly in the Faroese media. The local animal protection society protested against the way the killing was conducted, and most people here are sorry about this incident and agree that we must do everything possible to prevent such things from happening again.

Politicians have suggested to ban whale killing in this particular bay and have also made suggestions to make rules that only allow people with special licenses to participate in a whale kill to minimize the risk of errors that might lead to situations like these, which get out of control. Some people even talk about banning whale killing as a whole.

The Faroese are not ignorant to animal suffering
I don't think, though, that this last suggestion will happen right now, because people here also know, that what happened in Klaksvík was an exception. And it doesn’t change the way people in the Faroes look upon pilot whales. They are still regarded as a food source. But I am sure that something will happen as a consequence of this that will help prevent that whales suffer more than absolutely necessary in future whale killings.

Even though many Faroese still support whale killing, because hunting and eating whale meat is so integrated in the culture, they are not ignorant to animal welfare. They are able to realize when something is inhumane and should be dealt with.

But this is – of course – not the picture the Sea Shepherd is interested to paint of the whalers or the Faroese out there. To them this is war... a war against the acts of the Faroese whalers – and in a war you're allowed to use any method to make your opponents look as bad as possible...

Does not help to dehumanize the whalers 
But I'm concerned that it does not help the pilot whales much to dehumanize the whalers... I think that the best way to protect the whales from suffering, is to appeal to the whalers as the humane beings they are – because as such they are open to reason.... and emotion also, of course. Acting as if you're dealing with monsters, will not create grounds for a reasonable dialog, but just make people shut their ears. Nobody likes to be accused of being a monstrous maniac.

Okay, I just wanted to cast a little more light on, how the Faroese look at these events. This explanation, though, might not make much difference to those who have difficulties accepting that the Faroese regard pilot whales, first and foremost, as a food source, while to them whales – including pilot whales – are sacred creatures. I realize that it might be impossible to reach common understanding between people with such opposite views on the matter.