Tag Archives: Faroe Islands

Every year, locals from the Faroe islands slaughter thousands of dolphins as a tradition. Now it could be banned

The government of the Faroe Islands is reviewing the country’s annual dolphin-and-whale hunt.

Image credits Wikimedia.

According to representatives of the administrative body, no decision has yet been made and several options are being considered. A final decision on the future of this hunt is expected in the coming weeks, they added.

Reviewing tradition

The Faroes are a pretty tiny archipelago to the north of the United Kingdom. Politically, they are an autonomous territory, part of the Kingdom of Denmark, much like Greenland. And, for the longest time now, it has maintained the custom of the “grindadráp”, or “grind” for short.

During grindadrap, fishermen seek out groups of dolphins or pilot whales and surround them with a semi-circle of fishing boats. The animals are then driven into a shallow bay, where they are subsequently beached. Fishermen on shore then slaughter the animals, which are now easy pickings.

Last year’s grind, which took place on September 12, 2021, occured on a much larger scale than any previously. The event, which saw the slaughter of more than 1,400 Atlantic white-side dolphins (Lagenorhynchus acutus) sparked quite a wave of international outrage. Following that event, the country’s Prime Minister Bardur a Steig Nielsen ordered an official re-evaluation of the hunt.

That re-evaluation is now complete. The government discussed its conclusion at a meeting in Torshavn on Tuesday. Despite the public interest in this topic, no decision seems to have been reached just yet.

“It was a first meeting. No decisions were taken,” an official in the prime minister’s office told Agence France Presse, adding that “several options” are on the table, with a final decision expected “in a few weeks”.

A petition with almost 1.3 million signatures calling for a ban on the hunt was also submitted to the Faroe government on Monday, adding further pressure on lawmakers to come to a decision.

That being said, the hunt still enjoys wide support in the Faroes. It is part of local tradition, and this hunt has been a vital food source for local communities historically. It is very unlikely that all the customs surrounding the grind will be banned; the government explained that only the hunt is currently under review, not the whole tradition.

Ancient poop suggests someone colonized the Faroe Islands before the Vikings

The Faroe Islands, a small archipelago located halfway between Iceland and Norway, was once home to an unknown group of people in the year 500 AD, around 350 years before the Vikings arrived, according to a new study. The finding is based on the analysis of centuries-old sheep poop found on the bottom of a lake in the islands. 

Image credit: Flickr / Allan Watt.

The Vikings were excellent sailors; any rugged and inhospitable place in Europe that you could reach by water, they did it. But maybe, in some places, others groups arrived before them. Until recently, evidence of people arriving in the Faeroe before Vikings has been limited. The islands are rocky and windswept, so not that much has remained intact on the surface. In 2013, researchers found burnt barley grains, not native to the island, beneath the floor of a Viking house. The grains were dated 300 to 500 years before the Vikings occupied the islands. 

Seeking to unravel the history that these grains hold, a group of researchers focused on a lake on the Faroese island of Eysturoy, located near a village that previously hosted a Viking settlement. They dropped tubes into the lake bottom and collected cores that were 2.7 meters in length (nine feet). Its analysis showed the presence of plenty of domesticated sheep. 

The team of researchers estimated the animals arrived between 492 and 512 – determined based on the depth of the sediment layers. There’s no evidence of mammals on the island before the arrival of the sheep, so this would indicate they were brought by people arriving on the islands. Sheep is now a staple of the Faroese diet. 

“We show conclusive evidence that humans had introduced livestock to the Faroe Islands three to four centuries before the Viking-age Norse settlement period that is widely documented in the archaeological record. We constrain the most likely timing of human arrival to 500 CE, approximately 350 years before Viking Age settlements,” they wrote.

The mystic Faroe Islands

Faroe Islands — the Grave of Viking Chieftain Havgrímur.

Located over 300 kilometers northwest of Scotland, the Faroes have impressive towering cliffs as their coastlines, with cloudy weather and strong winds. The landscape is largely tundra and only a few places would have been enticing for settlement. There are a few flat places near protected bays, where the Vikings would usually camp. It’s definitely not the place where you’d expect to find an inexperienced sailor.

Some medieval writings suggest that Irish monks used to live in the islands by the year 500, including among them the Irish navigator St. Brendan – famous for sailing the Atlantic. Now, the sheep DNA helps to better understand the history of the island. The researchers believe these first people were the Celts, crossing from Scotland or Ireland.

In fact, there are names in the Faroe Islands that come from Celtic words, as well as undated Celtic grave markings on the islands. Previous studies have found maternal Celtic lineage in Faroese people. It’s possible that Vikings had Celtic brides with them, but the maternal Celtic background is so high that the researchers think Celts were very likely on the islands before the Vikings. 

The study was published in the journal Communications Earth & Environment. 

Shutting down for maintenance: Faroe Islands close to tourism, call volunteers help

The Faroe Islands, halfway between Norway and Island, will be closed to tourists and will only welcome volunteers in April 15-17, 2020, to help out on different maintenance projects.

Credit Wikipedia Commons

The territory, an archipelago controlled by Denmark but not a part of the European Union, has seen a record number of tourists in the last few years. While in 2013 68.000 people visited the islands, last year the number scaled to 110.000, double the population of the islands.

It is composed of 18 islands covering 1399 square km (545.3 sq miles), just 113 km (70 miles) long and 75 km (47 miles) wide. There are people living in 17 islands, leaving just one inhabited. There are a lot of smaller islets around the archipelago as well, making for a rugged, picturesque setting.

Visitors arrive from different corners of the world due to the islands’ rugged beauty, including a blue ocean, vertical sea cliffs, green mountains, and a picturesque valley. There are about 70.00 sheep and two million pairs of seabirds on the island, including the biggest colony of storm petrels in the world.

Such a tourism boom has caused fear among the local authorities, concerned over the effects it could cause on local ecosystems. But they came up with a solution, calling volunteers a few times per year to ask for help on different projects, from road maintenance to erecting signposts.

“For us, tourism is not all about numbers,” Guðrið Højgaard, Director at Visit Faroe Islands, told CNN recently. “We welcome visitors to the islands each year, but we also have a responsibility to our community and to our beautiful environment, and our aim is to preserve and protect the islands, ensuring sustainable and responsible growth.”

Getting ready for 2020

Back on April 26 and 27, the island decided to do a pilot of its volunteer initiative, preparing for the official start in 2020. While the hotels remained open and the flights operated normally, several tourisms attractions closed down. Thousands applied to volunteer but only 100 were accepted.

“Closed for maintenance, open for voluntarism,” read a notice on the Faroe Islands website back then, warning any potential visitors of the planned activities during the April weekend.

Volunteers arrived from Mexico, Israel, Australia, China, and the United States and were assigned in teams to different projects across the islands, each of a different level of difficulty. All involved handling equipment such as shovels, hammers, and screwdrivers.

A group went to the island of Mykines, usually visited by travelers due to the bird colonies. They built a new route as well as a bird-watching site. Another one went to Klakkur, one of the high mountains surrounding Klaksvík, the second largest town. They repaired the path, which was worn and muddy.

“It has been wonderful to see so many faces from around the world come together with local villagers and farmers with one united mission and a ‘roll-up-your-sleeves’ attitude,” says director Guðrið Hojgaard.

Not the first case

Fairly close to the archipelago, Iceland has been dealing with similar issues due to its growing popularity among tourists – with 2.2 million arriving there last year. That’s six times the population of the country, putting pressure on its infrastructure and ecosystems.

Iceland has taken efforts to limit the number of tourists and ensure the sustainability of its tourism industry. It’s not an easy thing to manage, and visitors are also asked to play a role in the process.

“As part of our welcome, we wanted to create a pledge which we’ll encourage all visitors to take, creating an army of people who know how to stay safe and also how to look after our delicate nature, said Icelandic Tourism Minister Þórdís Kolbrún R. Gylfadóttir.

Coho spawning.

Greenland, Faroe Islands to stop commercial fishing of wild salmon for 12 years

Greenland and the Faroe Islands will completely stop commercial wild salmon fishing for the next 12 years. The move aims to allow the species to regenerate and return to rivers in Canada, the United States, and Europe.

Coho spawning.

Coho spawning on the Salmon River, Idaho.
Image credits Bureau of Land Management Oregon and Washington / Flickr.

It seems that one of the worst qualities an organism can have in the twenty-first century is being tasty. Case in point: wild salmon. While there are several wild species belonging to the family Salmonidae, nine of them are commercially-important — and they aren’t faring very well at all. Overfishing has left wild populations on the brink of collapse, with potentially disastrous consequences both on an environmental as well as economic and social level.

Teach a man not to fish

In an effort to allow Atlantic populations some time to recover, the Atlantic Salmon Federation and North Atlantic Salmon Fund have convinced Greenland and the Faroe Islands to stop commercial salmon fishing for the next 12 years. These two countries were selected as their coastal waters hold feeding grounds that are crucial for wild salmon, harboring many individuals from endangered populations in rivers like Saint John in New Brunswick and the Penobscot in Maine.

In exchange, the two organizations have pledged financial support for alternative economic development in Greenland, scientific research, and education projects focused on marine conservation.

For now, the exact details of this financial agreement are being kept confidential — but the Atlantic Salmon Federation is adamant that not government money will be involved. All funding will be raised by the two organizations or will come from private donations.

Greenland fishermen will also be allowed catches up to 20 metric tonnes per year for personal and family consumption only. Even so, the deal is estimated to allow over 11,000 mature salmon to return to home rivers in 2019 instead of ending up in a net.

And nothing sums up why we need to do this better than this somewhat obvious but very valid observation of Chad Pike, chairman of the North Atlantic Salmon Fund:

“The best way to save North Atlantic salmon is to stop killing them,” he told The Globe and Mail. “This deal does that in meaningful numbers.”

“Significantly reducing the harvest of wild Atlantic salmon on their ocean feeding grounds is meaningful and decisive,” adds Bill Taylor, president of the Atlantic Salmon Federation.

Wild salmon stocks have steadily dropped to alarming levels in the past few years, caught between overfishing, ecosystem shifts caused by climate change, and other run-of-the-mill human meddling. Stocks have dwindled from roughly 1.8 million individuals returning on salmon runs in North America in the 1970s and ’80s to under 418,000 individuals in 1990, and the sustained efforts of the Atlantic Salmon Federation (about which you can read more here) have managed to prop up their numbers to roughly 600,000 in recent years.

Still, the situation is far, far from improving. Salmon runs across the US are at an all-time low: in California, Oregon, Idaho, Washington, and southern British Columbia, many bring less than 10% of their historical numbers. Others have simply stopped happening altogether, according to this paper by Robert T. Lackey from the Department of Fisheries and Wildlife. This paragraph puts how dire the state of wild Atlantic salmon is today into chilling perspective:

“Every few years, there is a media celebration of ‘record’ salmon runs, but these temporary blips are due mainly to favorable ocean conditions coupled with a recalibration of what constitutes a ‘record’ run. If doubling a run from 2% to 4% of the historical level qualifies as a record run, then we are often there, however modest the increase may be,” he writes.

“More sobering, the majority of such runs are usually hatchery-bred fish. Nowadays wild salmon comprise less than a quarter of many West Coast salmon runs.”

Delegations from Greenland and the Faroe Islands will declare the zero commercial quotas at next month’s international summit in Portland, Maine, which will work retroactively to April 30.

The 12-year moratorium should cover two whole generations of wild Atlantic salmon, allowing them to reproduce in peace. Both organizations, as well as officials from the two countries, expect that this will help significantly raise population numbers in the long term.