Tuesday, 22 November 2011

What is going on in the Faroe Islands?

I was pleased to see recently that word is spreading about the grindadráp, or grind, ritual that occurs in the Faroe Islands every year. The grind drives occur mostly during the summer months, and nearly the entire population participates. They are similar to the dolphin drives of Taiji, Japan. Men will heard pods of whales and dolphins to strand themselves in shallow water and on beaches by throwing stones after them in the water. They then use ropes and enormous hooks to restrain and drag the whales onshore, often by hooking them in their sensitive blowholes. The panicked animals are then slaughtered on the beaches, turning the sand and water red with their blood. Meat is divided up amongst the entire island population, making everyone guilty of involvement.

photo credit Stop the Grind

Pilot whales are the most common target, as their ancient migration paths cross the island waters. Other species that are killed include harbor porpoises, Atlantic white-sided dolphins and bottlenose dolphins.

The Faroese argue that their hunt is not commercial and that the animals are used for sustenance. Environmental and animal rights groups argue that in the modern Faroe Islands there is more than enough food to go around and the hunt is therefore unnecessary. Furthermore, the meat of the cetaceans has been proven to carry high levels of toxins such as PCBs and mercury and is dangerous for human consumption. Another Faroese argument is that the species are not endangered and the hunt does not pose a significant threat to the worldwide population. The official standing of both long-finned and short-finned pilot whales on the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN)'s Red List of Threatened Species is "data deficient," and it means just that - we don't know. The hunts may be causing more damaging than we are realising, especially on localised populations.

The biggest argument is that the grind is a historic part of Faroese culture. To that I personally have just one response: Killing is not culture. Is that really an argument anyone would want to win?

photo credit Stop the Grind

The most recent slaughter on the Faroe beaches occurred on November 18th where 46 animals were killed, bringing the total number this season to 642. It is rare to hear a Faroese voice against the grind, but recently some have spoken out against it. On the Sea Shepherd's most recent campaign to the Faroe Islands, they even had two Faroese individuals aboard.

So what can you and I do about this? The main course of action is to sign petitions and write to representatives. This issue is still not very well known, so spreading the word is important. Most people have been horrified when they find out about the grind - even some of my friends who hate animals (Yes, they are crazy. Love you guys ♥). Since the main concern of the Faroese is protecting a cultural tradition, this is an uphill battle. The circumstances are very similar to those in the fight against the dolphin killing in Taiji seen in the film "The Cove." Click on over to Stop the Grind's Take Action page for some more suggestions.

There is another hunt going on as I type this. An additional 1,000 whales are being targeted.
Swim fast, swim far, swim deep.

Sunday, 13 November 2011

WhaleFest 2011

The first and largest event of its kind in Europe, WhaleFest ran the weekend of bonfire night this fall in Brighton, UK. A celebration for those who love whales and dolphins, WhaleFest - organised by Planet Whale (international search engine for whale watches) - attracted THOUSANDS of people and was a huge success! Great job guys!!

So what happened at Whale Fest? Well, let me tell you...'cuz I was lucky enough to attend!

All photos are mine; clickthrough for larger

Over 60 exhibitors set up tables on two floors, handing out information about environmental charities, whale watch programs and volunteer opportunities. Several retailers were selling beautiful books, jewelry, posters and paintings featuring whales and dolphins. In the main hall, life-sized models of whales filled the room along with a "virtual whale watch" and an exhibit that brought you inside the belly of a whale!

In the Workshop Room, mini-courses were held on how to get involved in a career with whales and dolphins, whale identification, photographing cetaceans and much more. In the Talk Talk Chamber, celebrities and experts in the field spoke about their films, books, research and experiences with whales and dolphins and included the likes of Stephen Marsh (of British Divers Marine Life Rescue), Philip Hoare (author of Leviathan, or The Whale), and Mark Carwardine (of BBC's Last chance to See).

If that wasn't enough, there were craft workshops for kids, film screenings (including Keiko: The Untold Story), raffles and a celebrity fundraising event that raised over £1,600 for several marine charities.


Here's a few quotes taken from Planet Whale's summary:

“It was a great pleasure to attend WhaleFest and be part of such a fun and important event. I thoroughly enjoyed myself, met some very interesting people and thank you for all your generous hospitality.”
- Mark Brownlow, series producer BBC Ocean Giants, and Clash of the Titans speaker

“I just wanted to say a big thank you from myself and also from MARINElife for the very enjoyable first WhaleFest which we all found a superb event. It really gave us the opportunity to engage with our volunteers, supporters, other organisations and the public.”
- Adrian Shephard, MARINElife (charity)

Missed this year's WhaleFest? No worries - plans are already being made for next year's event, which is sure to be even bigger and better! Stay tuned to Planet Whale's website for future information and for all your whale watching needs!


Wednesday, 2 November 2011

Brilliant Basking Sharks

photo credit Chris Gotschalk

Recently I was lucky enough to be able to attend a monthly meeting of the Marine Conservation Society (MCS) UK South East branch in London. The speaker of the evening was Evan Landy, an M.Sc. researcher from the University of Exeter, and the topic was basking sharks.

I've long been fascinated by these huge, ancient-looking fish. They are the second largest fish alive (after the whale shark), reaching 30 - 40 feet and weighing on average just over 5 tons. Despite this, basking sharks feed on some of the tiniest creatures in the ocean, passively filter-feeding delicious copepods from the sea surface as they lazily swim by. Despite their somewhat scary appearance, they pose no threat to humans and are a popular dive attraction.

Aside from learning when and where to go visit these amazing sharks (and that they're so big you can actually see them from shore!), I learned that we actually have something in common - the sharks and I. Landy's research has been on mapping populations and distributions of basking sharks around the United Kingdom, and it turns out they just happen to like warm sunny beaches and nice weather. What a coincidence. We should hang out some time.

Landy mentioned spotting sharks the past few years has been a challenge possibly due to the less-than-fantastic summers in the British Isles recently. MCS is looking for the public to report their sightings of basking sharks (and other creatures) on their website to help map where the animals are spending their time. Future work with this species will be aimed at training fishermen to report their sightings while at sea, satellite tagging and genetics.

For more information on the work of MCS, visit their website. Meetings of the South East branch are held on the second Tuesday of each month from 8:00 - 10:00pm, in the function room at the Holland Club, Imperial College, Kensington, London, SW7.