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'Whale Wars'' Paul Watson on Faroes killing, online debate

April 26, 2012|By Dean Kuipers | This post has been corrected, as in dicated below.
  • Faroe Islands fishermen wade into a shallow bay to kill a pod of pilot whales in a hunt called a "grind." Sea Shepherd has launched a new show called "Whale Wars: Viking Shores" to focus attention on the hunt.
Faroe Islands fishermen wade into a shallow bay to kill a pod of pilot whales… (Regin W. Dalsgaard/Animal…)

The Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, capitalizing on the tremendous success of their Animal Planet TV show, “Whale Wars,” has now taken on a new battle. With the Japanese fleet’s Antarctic hunt finished for the season, the skull-and-crossbones crew have turned their attention on the Faroe Islands with a new show: “Whale Wars: Viking Shores.”

The second episode of “Viking Shores” airs Friday at 9 p.m. on Animal Planet, and the Faroese are fighting back in defense of their traditional whale hunting in unique fashion. After the second episode on May 4, Sea Shepherd Captain Paul Watson is squaring off in an online debate with Heri Joensen, lead singer of the Faroese folk-metal band, Tyr. That live-streamed faceoff on the video conference platform Watchitoo will air on the Animal Planet Website and Facebook page at 10 p.m. EDT.

Not, say, the fisheries minister? No, a metal band singer and a high-energy defender of Faroese customs, who has appeared on a "Viking Shores" episode and wrote an anti-Sea Shepherd song called "Rainbow Warrior" (which includes the lyric: "May your ship sink"). Just another odd twist in an already nuanced conflict.  

In the Faroe Islands, unlike the Antarctic campaign, the oceangoing conservation outfit is not hectoring a faceless, corporate, government-subsidized commercial whaling outfit with massive factory ships that kill whales in the name of “research.” On this grouping of 18 small islands in the North Atlantic, a Danish protectorate situated between Iceland and Scotland, the people kill pilot whales by hand, on the shore, as part of a traditional hunt called the “Grind,” (pronounced “grinned”) which residents say is thousands of years old.

The Grind is not pretty, and “Viking Shores” pulls no punches. The Faroese send boats out into the ocean to find pilot whales, which are cetaceans not as large as the fin or minke whales hunted by the Japanese, but are slightly bigger than dolphins. Then they herd the mammals toward one of several dozen beaches on the islands, where residents lie in wait. As the powerful creatures beach themselves in panic, hunters wade into them with long curved hooks and slaughter the whole pod in a bloody frenzy. The Faroese eat a lot of pilot whale.

Graphic stuff, but also supported by a large sector of Faroese society, and Sea Shepherd has approached it differently. The crew came roaring in with their big boats in July 2011, but they didn’t start ramming anybody. Instead, they went ashore, stayed at local hotels, mixed with the Faroese people and announced their willingness to debate anyone, talk to any media, and stop any hunt. Upshot? A small amount of dialog, but also zero whales killed for the two months Sea Shepherd and their cameras were present.

We caught up to Watson in-between campaigns, including Sea Shepherd initiatives to stop shark-finning (for soup) in the South Pacific and to stop the overfishing of bluefin tuna in the Mediterranean, both of which also happen during the summer.

LAT: Why bring the TV show to the Faroes?

Paul Watson: We’ve done this before. We did a special with the BBC in 1986 called “Black Harvest.” We went there in ‘83, ‘85, ‘86, 2000, 2010 and 2011. We can’t go every year because of the expenses and everything. We decided now that we had “Whale Wars,” that it would be a good opportunity to do episodes on the Faroes.

LAT: What do the cameras do for your campaign?

PW: Not a single whale was killed while we were there last year. The reasoning on the part of the Faroese was rather funny: They said, Well, if we don’t kill any whales, then you’re not going to have a TV show. So we’re not going to kill any whales. They forgot that our show’s about not killing whales. So we were quite happy with that outcome.

LAT: Were there any changes in the Faroe Islands situation that indicated it was time for a new tactic?

PW: It’s pretty much the same except for one significant change: A lot of young people really don’t want anything to do with it, there. We actually have a segment of the Faroese population that’s now opposed to it. Also, older people, especially mothers, are concerned because of the high mercury content of the pilot whales. In fact, it’s only recommended that people eat it once a month, and pregnant women and children not at all. But of course, the more traditional conservatives decide, ‘Ah, the hell with that.’ It’s like denying global warming. That’s why the Faroese have the highest rate of mercury poisoning of any people on the planet.

LAT: Instead of staying on the boats, you’re going into the community.

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