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Is it Time to Question Age-old Traditions?

The people of the Faroe Islands have an age-old tradition. It is a custom that has, over time, become a somewhat defining characteristic for the Faroese residents. 


 


The Faroe Islands is a territory, part of the Denmark Kingdom but largely independent. It was way back in the early 1800s that the Faroe Islands became a separate territory, before which it was under the governance of Denmark. 


 


Ever since then, Faroese citizens have created and followed their customs and traditions, which they are rather proud of, not unlike every other country. Since the island is surrounded by water on all sides, with a population of nearly 50,000 individuals, its primary food sources are bound to be from the ocean. Over the years, water animals like fish, crabs, and even more uncommon ones like sharks and dolphins have become a staple for the Faroese. 


 


Unsurprisingly, their diet, which includes the consumption of large fish, faces a lot of criticism and scrutiny from individuals and groups worldwide. There has been a debate over their practices for ages – about how their actions endanger important aquatic species and how they promote and encourage their hunting. 


 


But it is coming back to the previously mentioned tradition. It is called the “Grind” {pronounced gr-y-nd}. While many remain unaware of it, millions worldwide have expressed concern about how this tradition is dangerous and a threat to a particular species of aquatic animal – the Pilot Whale. 


 


While the name suggests otherwise, these fish are not whales but the largest dolphin species. They are only treated as whales for the Marine Mammals Protection Regulations, an Act which provides guidelines on how marine animals are to be treated. It is according to this that people are allowed/prohibited from hunting animals protected by the regulations. 


 


The Grind - also known as “Grindadrap,” which is Faroese for the hunting and killing pilot whales – is a tradition that began during the Viking era. So, this was back in 800 AD when it was primarily believed that the ocean was and always would be an endless supply of fish and giant whales. So, in their eyes, their practice was justified. 


 


But as we evolved, we gradually concluded that such species would soon become endangered if the yearly hunt for them continued. But by this time, the Grind had already become an established age-old tradition and held great importance to the Faroese. Over the years, the Faroese have been defined as an indigenous community, and it is no secret that indigenous groups have faced many difficulties in our world. They have lost importance, been displaced and pushed out from their lands, and have been deemed unfit to stay in the “real” society by many. Due to this, their conservation and protection have been given high importance. 


 


Specific laws have been put in place to ease their lives, even if in the slightest. According to these, they have the right to complete self-governance. Governments of the world and powerful groups or individuals are not allowed to meddle and tell them what customs to follow or where to reside. Meaning they are, in theory, protected against forced displacement. 


 


While this law rightfully grants rights to self-govern, it also causes a hindrance when some customs and practices need to be questioned. As mentioned, the Grind is an age-old yearly tradition where men go out on motor boats and scare pilot whales toward the shore. They threaten them with the loud noises of the motors surrounding them, and once they reach the beaches, others are waiting to hunt them.


 


Every year, nearly thousands of pilot whales are killed for consumption, and throughout the year, their meat, fat, and other edible parts are distributed across the islands for free. 


This practice occurs yearly, and countless individuals, organizations, and other groups have raised concerns. They have pointed out that times have changed, and such traditions threaten the existence of an already endangered species. 


 


The number of dolphins killed in 2021 was over 1500, but the number dropped to 200 in 2022. While this is a good change, the question of sustainability needs to be raised. Furthermore, endangered species have the right to be protected, but the integrity of the Faroe Islands must also be upheld.


 


How are we going to find our way around this? How are the governments of the world going to conserve a crucial species while also retaining and upholding necessary indigenous rights? Such fundamental questions need to be asked regardless of how much the number of dolphins killed last year dropped as compared to the year before that. We must look at the long-term impact of specific actions and determine how to carry them out more sustainably. It is only through considering sustainability and being mindful of our environment that we will be able to tackle all the major issues our world currently faces. 


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