Sea turns red with blood in ‘the worst pilot whale slaughter campaigners have recorded’ as 138 of the creatures are driven into harbour and hacked to death in traditional ‘hunt’


The most brutal whale hunt campaigners say they have ever documented saw at least 138 pilot whales slaughtered as they were driven into a shallow harbour, in a gruesome ritual which lasted ‘hours’.

The latest grindadrap in the Faroe Islands – a Viking tradition which sees the animals rounded up and hacked to death – was the second of the year and involved a pod of more than 200 of the animals.

The sea turned red with the animals’ blood as they were slashed and stabbed after being held in an inescapable part of the harbour at Hvannasund, a village on the west coast of Viðoy, the northernmost island in the archipelago.

The ‘grindadrap’, or ‘grind’ for short, is a 1,000-year-old Faroese tradition which sees hunters encircle pilot whales and dolphins with their fishing boats and drive them into shore.

The terrified animals are beached, and fishermen then brutally slaughter them with knives on the shore, with locals then eating their meat and blubber.

Every summer, shocking images of the bloody hunt show the macabre ritual, which is strongly condemned by outraged animal rights defenders who consider the practice barbaric.

This year, witnesses from marine wildlife charity the Captain Paul Watson Foundation said the drive was particularly shocking for the length of time the animals suffered.

Valentina Crast, campaign lead at Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, told The Express: ‘The brutality of this hunt exceeded anything we have ever documented before, as a pod of more than 200 pilot whales were hunted and driven for hours and later divided.’

On Saturday at around 11.30am local time, a Faroese fisheries patrol vessel spotted a pod that was initially estimated at 50 to 100 long-finned pilot whales off of Viðoy.

At 12.45 the decision was taken to drive them in and over the coming hours the pod was slowly forced towards land.

Witnesses said the number of boats involved was smaller than usual, likely due to an ongoing strike in the Faroes that has led to major fuel shortages.

At just after 3pm it was confirmed that the animals would be driven in for the kill at 4pm, however this time came and went with the animals still being held within a fjord by boats.

Next an announcement was made that the killing would be delayed to allow the rowing competition in Klaksvik to finish in order that more people would be present on the beach to see the animals die.

Two-and-a-half hours later the boats finally drove in the dolphins, who had now been in a stressful situation for over five and a half hours.

A spokesman for the foundation said: ‘Our livestream footage shows animals struggling on shore for over 25 minutes whilst the killing of other pod members took place, after which the remaining live animals were held in place for a further 90 minutes by vessels whilst they struggled on the rocky shore and showed increasing signs of stress.

‘Eventually the decision was made to drive the remaining animals back out to sea.

‘These efforts appeared to be less enthusiastic than when driving them in, with one individual throwing stones at the pod whilst a single boat manoeuvred around them.

‘The designated killing area was different from that usually used in Hvannasund – possibly due to the falling tide.

‘This meant that the animals were being driven ashore on large rocks whilst the other part of the killing area was a concrete wall, making it difficult to insert the hook into the blow hole to then pull them in to be paralysed and killed.’

Initial counts indicate at least 40 long-finned pilot whales were killed in the first batch – with the charity saying there is no humane way to perform such a task.

Later, it appears many of the remaining animals live stranded and were killed, with the death toll standing at 138 by Sunday evening.

Rob Read, Chief Operating Officer of the Paul Watson Foundation UK, said: ‘The Faroese use the tight knit bonds of kinship between pilot whales against them and so whilst it is a relief that some animals were saved today, today’s event will take a massive toll on this family group.

The pilot whales are hauled into shore by islanders after they are beached and hacked to death. Picture taken last month

‘It would be no surprise if more animals die as a direct result of today’s grindadráp, either from injuries sustained from boats and rocks, or from the sheer stress of today’s events.’

Surviving members of the pod managed to get back out to sea by Sunday, witnesses said, with campaigners labelling it ‘one of the most reckless and careless hunts we have ever documented’.

Long-finned pilot whales are actually dolphins and are renowned for their close knit family groups headed up by a senior matriarch.

Breeding and mating usually takes place between April and September and a single calf is born every three to six years.

Older and non reproductive females help care for the calves in the pod.

Female long finned pilot whales can live up to 60 years, whilst males can live up to 45 years.

Like all cetaceans – whales, dolphins and porpoises – long-finned pilot whales play a vital role in ocean ecosystems, helping to keep the oceans alive and thriving.

Volunteers have been lobbying to end the grind – which kills hundreds of whales every year.

The Faroese state that this is part of their tradition and that the hunt provides free food for their community.

But campaign groups label the hunt, which takes place every year, ‘barbarous’ and say it is no longer just about feeding the islanders, with excess meat and blubber sold off.

Fishermen usually surround the animals before they are beached and cut up, often turning the sea red with their blood, with aerial shots showing the blood-stained water during the 2023 grind.

By July last year, 648 pilot whales had died in the slaughter, which has been widely condemned by charities and animal lovers.

The Faroe Islands are a self-governing archipelago forming part of the Kingdom of Denmark in the North Atlantic between Norway and Iceland.

This article by Elena Salvoni was first published by The Daily Mail on 4 June 2024. Lead Image: Pilot whales are laid out on the ground after being slaughtered during the Grindadrap over the weekend.

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