Pilot whale meat poses health hazard, Faroese warned

June 20, 2018
Pilot whales feed primarily on squid and have a distinct, rounded head with a very slight beak

The Faroe Islands' ritual pilot whale hunt is not only highly controversial, eating the whale meat also poses a health hazard, public health authorities in Denmark's autonomous North Atlantic territory warn, advising against eating it.

In a centuries-old tradition known as the "grindadrap", swimming close to shore during their summer migration are surrounded by Faroese in small boats, who herd them into shallow waters and beaches where they kill them with knives, turning the water red.

The meat is then distributed to locals.

The practice is "ecological" and "respectful", says Fisheries Minister Hogni Hoydal, who also argues it is a key part of the Faroese tradition of living in a sustainable way off their marine resources.

But the head of the Faroe Islands public health administration, Pal Weihe, advises against eating it.

"We find it so problematic for the health of the Faroese to eat it that we have asked them to make this cultural sacrifice," he told AFP, stressing: "It is a sacrifice not to consume this very traditional food anymore."

"If Denmark or Britain should stop eating bacon for breakfast, that would be a part of the culture which disappeared. Whale meat has really been part of our way of living, our identity, our culture," he said.

High levels of mercury and (POPs), released by industries into the environment, end up in the which can in turn affect humans' intellectual and neurological development and weaken their immune systems.

After following hundreds of children in a study that began in 1986, Weihe first recommended in 1998 that people limit pilot whale consumption to one or two meals a month—and advised pregnant women and those planning to have children to refrain completely.

As scientific documentation of toxicity levels steadily improved, that recommendation was extended to the entire Faroese population in 2008—with mixed results.

"When I say, 'You shouldn't eat it anymore', that's almost the same as to say 'Do not kill the anymore'," Weihe said.

"I'm not interfering in that, I'm just saying 'Don't eat them'. But as the only reason for killing them is the consumption, that means that some people are not listening to what I say."

Explore further: Up to 50 pilot whales killed in Faroes: activists

Related Stories

Up to 50 pilot whales killed in Faroes: activists

July 6, 2016

A militant conservation group claimed Wednesday that up to 50 pilot whales have been killed in the first traditional whale hunt of the year in the Faroe Islands, but authorities there defended the practice and slammed the ...

Japan whale hunt killed 122 pregnant minkes

May 31, 2018

Japan killed 122 pregnant minke whales during a highly controversial annual whaling expedition that Tokyo defends as scientific research but conservationists call "gruesome and unnecessary."

Oil in the Faroe Islands: mirage or miracle ?

June 20, 2018

After fuelling hopes of independence from Denmark at the turn of the millennium, the Faroe Islands' dreams of an oil bonanza have turned out to be more of a mirage than a miracle.

Recommended for you

Researchers isolate parvovirus from ancient human remains

July 13, 2018

Airborne and bloodborne human parvovirus B19 causes a number of illnesses, including the childhood rash known as fifth disease, chronic anemia in AIDS patients, arthritis in elderly people, aplastic crisis in people with ...

Finding the proteins that unpack DNA

July 12, 2018

A new method allows researchers to systematically identify specialized proteins that unpack DNA inside the nucleus of a cell, making the usually dense DNA more accessible for gene expression and other functions. The method, ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.