Conservation advocates say annual hunt violates international treaties
FRISCO — Five international Sea Shepherd crew members who tried to disrupt a bloody whale slaughter in the Faroe Islands are in court this week, facing charges of violating Faroe Island’s Pilot Whaling Act. The penalties include fines of up to about $3,000 or up to two years in prison.
Several other Sea Shepherd crew members were found guilty of disrupting the hunt in 2012, and a captain of a small Sea Shepherd boat was charged with not reporting a sighting of dolphins.
The law authorizes the slaughter as part of Faroe Island’s cultural tradition, but conservation advocates say the annual hunt may violate a European wildlife treaty. In the hunt, entire pods of whales and dolphins are driven to shore when they approach the coast and then killed, turning the seawater bloody red.
Sea Shepherd activists tried to stop the hunt, or at least draw international attention to it in order to turn the tide of public opinion against the practice. The crew members facing charges include Sea Shepherd land team Leader, Rosie Kunneke of South Africa, and fellow crewmembers Christophe Bondue of Belgium, Xavier Figarella of Corsica (France), Marianna Baldo of Italy, and Kevin Schiltz of Luxembourg.
They were arrested on July 23 when over 250 pilot whales were slaughtered on the killing beaches of Bøur and Tórshavn in the Faroese drive hunt, known as the grindadráp.
Kunneke and Bondue were arrested on the beach of Bøur as the slaughter began, while Figarella and Baldo were arrested as they attempted to document the Bøur slaughter from their tender. Schiltz was arrested later that day at the second slaughter in Tórshavn.
The killing of cetaceans is outlawed throughout the European Union, including Denmark, in accordance with Appendix II of the Convention on the Conservation of European Wildlife and Natural Habitats (Bern Convention).
However, in the Faroe Islands, the slaughter of pilot whales and other small cetaceans continues with the assistance of the Danish Police Force and Navy, and with the blessing of the Danish government.
CEO of Sea Shepherd Global, Captain Alex Cornelissen, said, “The police who arrested our crew are officers of the Danish National Police Force, employed by the government of Denmark. The arrests were made with the assistance of the Danish Navy, under orders from the government of Denmark.
‘Today, our crewmembers will appear in a Danish court in the Faroe Islands to face charges under the Danish legal system. The Danish government’s obvious involvement in the grindadráp runs in direct opposition to the sentiments of the Bern Convention and undermines Denmark’s commitment to international law,” Cornelissen said.
Photographs and video footage released by Sea Shepherd have been shared worldwide via the web, and some media reports suggest that Denmark’s parliament has been inundated with emails opposing the hunt.
“In order for Denmark to restore its international reputation regarding wildlife conservation, the government needs to immediately stop supporting this cetacean massacre,” said Cornelissen.
A total of seven Sea Shepherd crew members from seven different countries have been arrested in the Faroe Islands since July 20. All are facing charges relating to breaches of the Pilot Whaling Act.
Susan Larsen of the United States and Tom Strerath of Germany were arrested on July 20 following an attempted grindadráp near Klaksvík in the northeast of the archipelago. Larsen has been allowed to return to the United States following a preliminary hearing. Strerath remains in the Faroe Islands, his passport confiscated by local authorities. A follow-up court date for the pair is yet to be scheduled.
For hundreds of years the people of the Danish Faroe Islands have been herding migrating pilot whales from the sea into shallow water and slaughtering them. Today, the grindadráp is the single largest slaughter of marine mammals in Europe, and wipes-out entire family groups of whales and dolphins at one time.
Sea Shepherd has been leading opposition to the grindadráp since the early 1980s, and is currently in the Faroe Islands for the organization’s sixth Pilot Whale Defense Campaign, Operation Sleppid Grindini.