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May 11, 2011

Stop the Faroe Islands Pilot Whale Hunt

Humane Society International

  • A pilot whale. Adam Li, NOAA/NMFS/SWFSC

Gruesome images of the pilot whale hunt in the Faroe Islands have been cycling through cyberspace for years. Despite widespread opposition to the hunt (which targets other cetacean species, such as white-sided dolphins, as well) and its brutal killing tactics, the Faroese continue the tradition.

In 1998, a Faroese doctor (himself a former pilot whale hunter) strongly advised that pregnant women and all women of child-bearing age refrain from eating pilot whale meat, as his studies showed it to be highly contaminated with polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) and mercury. More recently, he changed his advisory to include everyone. In other words, the Faroese people should stop eating pilot whale meat altogether.

Increased risks

New studies done on people who eat these animals reveal that exposure to the toxic chemicals found in the meat is linked to deficient immune function in children as well as a general decreased response to vaccinations. Moreover, the contaminants found appear to increase the risk for Parkinson’s disease, hypertension, and hardening of the arteries in adults. This new evidence only adds to the mounting reasons why consuming whale meat is unhealthy and dangerous.

Take action to save whales

While these studies show the adverse effects of whale meat consumption on humans, what are these high levels of industrial pollutants doing to the whales themselves? It is likely that this toxicity is causing changes in the animals’ immune function and reproduction. Although cetacean studies lag behind human health studies, these issues should certainly be considered when the Faroese set their hunt quotas. Killing large numbers of these marine mammals every year could be adding to the detrimental effects on their population.

Better late than never

It is high time that the people of the Faroe Islands heed the warnings not to consume meat from pilot whales and other dolphins. This advice even comes from one of their own, someone who understands the cultural history and significance of the practice. Ending the hunt and ceasing consumption of pilot whale meat would benefit not only the health and well-being of the humans in the Faroe Islands, but that of their ocean-dwelling neighbors as well.

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