Issue: Long-finned Pilot Whale
Values: 50.00 DKK
Author: Edward Fuglø
Technique: Offset + Metal FX
Printer: Southern Colour Print, New Zealand
The pilot whale (Globicephala melas) is an extremely gregarious animal that regularly swims along the Faroese coast on its migration within its habitat in the northern Atlantic Ocean. During the approximately 300 years for which we have statistics, somewhere between 800 and 1500 whales have been killed annually in the Faroes. It is estimated that 1000 whales can produce roughly 500 tonnes of meat and blubber, and the pilot whale has thus been immensely important to the population of the islands down the ages.
The only terrestrial mammals on the Faroes are a few small rodents. Therefore, the only mammals that have been hunted regularly are seals, to be found in abundance along the coast. One exception is the hare, but it was introduced onto the islands in the 19th century. The capture of pilot whales is not hunting in the true sense of the word. They are not hunted. They are driven ashore when a pod happens to swim by.
On the Faroes there has always been free access to the resources of the sea. This also applies to pilot whales. On the other hand, catching them requires extensive social organisation. On account of the topography of the islands, there are only a few places where it is possible to drive a pod of whales ashore and slaughter them. Since 1832, legislation has governed where pilot whales may be caught. There were probably also rules on this earlier. However, the legislation does not give the inhabitants of a village with a specified catch site a preferential right to catch the whales. The meat and blubber of pilot whales is equally distributed among all inhabitants, whether newborn or elderly. Even visitors get their lawful share. For practical reasons, the country is divided into pilot whale districts, but over time there will be food for all. In this way, a unique distribution system has emerged in connection with the exploitation of this important resource.
Everyone is entitled to participate in the catch. However, it has not been common to have women in the boats as the Faroese were previously very superstitious about women at sea. Things are probably different now. There have been no gender differences in connection with the distribution of the catch.
Some foreigners have often been fascinated by the capture of pilot whales in the Faroes. These include the Danish official Chr. Pløyen, who composed the poem Grindevise in 1832. This enthusiastic poem of homage is in the style of a traditional ballad and has been in common use for the traditional pilot whale dance, a chain dance, often outdoors after a successful catch while people waited for distribution by the sheriff, celebrated the catch and needed to keep warm. The pilot whale dance is hardly danced any more.
In this way, the capture of pilot whales has also assumed a visible position in cultural life. A number of Faroese poets have also written about the capture of pilot whales in their poetry, in particular patriotic and regional poetry. These include Hans Andreas Djurhuus, Mikkjal á Ryggi and Jóannes Patursson.
In pictorial art, the capture of pilot whales has assumed an almost iconic position via the works of the well-known painter Sámal Joensen-Mikines. The slaughter of pilot whales is one of his main motifs and his works in this genre are among those that have made him best known. In recent years, there has been occasionally severe international criticism of the traditional capture of pilot whales. The method of capture is criticised as being cruel to the animals and it is alleged that pilot whales are an endangered species. The Faroese maintain that, as the annual catch only represents just over 0.01% of the total population, it can hardly be said that they are under threat of extinction. On the other hand, significant improvements have been made to the method of slaughter. It is strictly monitored and governed by detailed rules to eliminate animal suffering. The Faroese have kept to their traditional capture of pilot whales despite the criticism and most still greatly appreciate a good meal of pilot whale meat and blubber. However, there is some indication that the youngest generation do not fully share their parents’ taste, so we may find that the conflict between time-honoured tradition and modern philosophy of nature will be resolved entirely of its own accord in the not too distant future.