The Faroe Islands are a small archipelago between Iceland and Norway. They are home to beautiful volcanic mountain ranges. The Norse Vikings inhabited the islands in the early 9th century, and it has since been an island chain filled with a diverse and unique culture. Relative isolation from the rest of the world hindered the access and tools the Faroese had, which forced them to build a civilization on strong vocal traditions such as storytelling, ballads, and singing—they are therefore known to be a nation that prides itself in its history and heritage. Over the past century, globalization has connected people from all over the world. This exposure has come with a comparison of values and traditions. The Faroe people have an annual hunt that is an outdoor slaughter of pilot whales for food. They describe the convention as deeply rooted in their culture and heritage and tell how it once helped their people fend off famish and starvation. Globalization has made us smarter as people and has allowed us to share knowledge and embrace collaboration. We understand more than ever about mercury build-up in fish; the bigger the fish, the bigger the mercury accumulation.
Activism on the Islands:
Marine activism, ending whale hunts, has always been aggressive because, before the internet and access, the best way to stop these hunts was to get in between the whale and hunter. My biggest problem with this aggressive approach is that the implications and effects are far more concerning when we look at the Faroese people. Activism in the Faroese Islands has not used a practical approach because of how many activism groups confront the Faroese people. It has been a showcase of negligence and ignorance from both The Faroese people and Sea Shepherd, the primary activist group that campaigns on the islands. The practice of whale hunting has been a part of Faroe Islands culture for hundreds of years, and to get them to stop, we must tackle the issue delicately. The Faroese people are poisoning themselves with mercury, and Sea Shephard’s approach is non-effective because they are creating conflict with the Faroese people, leading to their ban from the islands. They risk their safety by getting between the pilot whales and the Faroese people. With the power of social media and the internet, it is easy to reach millions of people. The Faroese people have been victim to harassment from the outside world on the internet and other media, which hurts their ability to understand that whale meat is detrimental to their health. They do the natural thing we all do when our way of living is scrutinized: to take the defensive.
Methyl-Mercury contamination in whale meat and its effects on humans has been a topic of discussion for nearly a century. There are three types of mercury emission: natural, from volcanoes and geothermal vents; anthropogenic sources such as coal burning, metal mining, cement production, etc.; and re-emission events such as forest fires and floods. Coal and chlorine plants have a massive impact on marine life and are a primary reason they have high levels of mercury. Mercury content in humans has effects on the brain and can increase the risk of seizures and other neurological diseases. Studies have found that pregnant women who eat high levels of mercury-contaminated meat can risk the health and safety of their unborn kids. People inside and outside the islands have advocated stopping whale consumption based on mercury poisoning. It has become shrouded by this rage of marine extremists who believe the Faroe people are barbaric savages who deserve all the poisoning in the world for their cruel holiday.
Undoubtedly, the annual Faroese hunt needs to stop. The aggressive activist methods used up to now have seen little to no progress in convincing the Faroese to end this tradition. Participatory Conservation is a growing method used to work with indigenous lands and groups to try and figure out solutions and needs for various problems. Working with, instead of against, the Faroese community and doctors who already advocate for health problems concerning mercury poisoning seems like a more reliable and reasonable solution than conflict and force. Harassment from the outside world is closing doors and opportunities to work with the Faroese people on shifting the mindset and better-educating parents and communities on the effects of mercury poisoning. Education on mercury poisoning is minor and not amplified by importance because of the implications of siding with the rude activism groups that harass the people. With information and awareness, I believe the Faroese people will stop this tradition willingly to portray their unique, beautiful culture better.