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Environmental change as a threat to the pilot whale hunt in the Faroe Islands

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The Faroese pilot whale hunt—the grindadráp—has provided meat and blubber for human consumption since at least the late 16th century. This paper briefly discusses the history of the grindadráp in the context of its culture and broader human–environmental interactions. It then describes threats to the continuance of the grindadráp, including the possibility of over-extraction through poor management, international protests and boycotts, and the current issue of marine pollutants found in the tissues of the whales. Next, it examines the outcomes, or anticipated outcomes, of each of these threats. The coordination of science and policy has arguably ensured a sustainable take level, whereas the redirection of many protest efforts to other, more commercialized whaling operations has reduced international pressure on the Faroese to give up whaling. However, the issue of environmental pollutants remains, and has become the leading threat to the grindadráp. It concludes with a look to the future and at what changes the Faroese would have to make in their current food and cultural systems were the grindadráp to cease, and what the environmental, economic and cultural effects of those changes might be. The major options examined are: increasing the importation of foodstuffs, increasing local food production and redirecting part of the fisheries' catch from exports to the local market. Each option carries its own environmental, economic and cultural impact. A careful combination of the three will most likely prove to be best, if indeed the grindadráp is to be reduced or abandoned.

Keywords: Environment; Faroe Islands; food production; islands; mercury; whaling

Document Type: Research Article


Publication date: December 1, 2010


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