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Faroe Islands Whale Slaughter Sparks International Controversy

07/31/2011 04:08 pm ET | Updated Sep 30, 2011

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Torshavn, Faroe Islands -- Last week I had the opportunity to travel with a team of marine conservationists and film makers to screen the new documentary, Confessions of a Eco-Terrorist in the heart of the Faroese capitol of roughly 19,000 inhabitants. A segment of the film which showcases 30 years of Sea Shepherd campaigns as captured through the lens of director Peter J. Brown, addresses the annual pilot whale slaughters, referred to by locals as "Grindadráp" or simply "The Grind."

The team, led by The Blue Seals marine conservation organization including seven-year-old Klara Varn-Holden from Sweden, set out to find answers and raise awareness about the highly controversial, toxic and out dated local "tradition" that claims the lives of hundreds of pilot whales each year in the shallow bays throughout the isolated island chain -- a protectorate of Denmark.

Upon witnessing the disturbing scene during the film of entire pods of pilot whales being brutally hacked to death, the young girl turned to her father and asked, "Daddy, why do they kill the whales?" Moved by such an innocent question from a child's perspective, the team decided to fly to the Faroe Islands in order to offer locals an international perspective on the annual bloodbath as showcased in the film and to open up a line of communication on the gruesome "grind."

"I don't understand why they kill such friendly and beautiful animals like whales," stated the young conservationist. "They are so smart and innocent. I really wish they would just stop killing them."

Several local fisherman and whalers attended the film screening in order to defend the centuries-old cultural pastime, which the Faroese claim is still carried out for subsistence even though local scientists continue to warn of the serious risks of whale meat consumption. Considering the critically dangerous amounts of poisonous mercury that pilot whale meat contains and due to the extremely high levels of PCBs and pesticides found within, the issue at hand is very much a community health one as well.

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Do whales belong on a platter in 2011?

photo: Deborah Bassett

The screening came at a momentous time as the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society's vessel, The Brigitte Bardot, pulled into Torshvan harbor earlier in the week, creating a media frenzy in the small Nordic village bound by the cruel custom of killing in the name of culture. Local villagers showed up to oppose Sea Shepherd's presence by offering local whale meat to the little girl and bystanders. However, the youngster refused stating, "No thank you. I don't eat my friends."

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Locals feast on pilot whales in Torshavn

photo: Deborah Bassett

Later in the week, members of the Sea Shepherd crew unveiled a mass underwater dumping ground of whale carcasses, further pointing to the large amount of waste that surrounds the sporadic hunting episodes of the socially complex marine mammals, which are listed as "strictly protected" under the Convention on the Conservation of European Wildlife and Natural Habitats, also known as The Berne Convention.

According to Sea Shepherd president and founder Captain Paul Watson:

"The killing of the whales in the Faroe Islands is a violation of the European Union, specifically the Berne Convention but the Faroes as a Danish Protectorate are not a member of the EU although they directly benefit through Denmark from the EU. Denmark should be held accountable but apparently they are not."

For more information on the film, which is due for theatrical release later this year, please visit: www.confessionsfilm.com

To follow Sea Shepherd's current campaign in The Faroe Islands, please visit: www.seashepherd.org