An Open Letter to the People of the Faeroe Islands
Commentary by Captain Paul Watson
The Faeroese government and media have claimed that they are an open society and that debate and dialogue are valued and welcome in the Faeroe Islands. Towards that end, we decided to make a public presentation in Torshavn to explain why Sea Shepherd is defending the whales.
First we approached Nordic House, a cultural institution, where we were politely told we were not welcome to speak. Next, we made a reservation for a conference room at the Torshavn Hotel. With the reservation confirmed, we issued a notice of the event to take place on Saturday, August 13. But just the next day, the hotel cancelled the reservation on the advice of a source they would not reveal. The movie theatre literally slammed the door in our faces when the same proposal was requested. So much for a welcome and an open dialogue in the Faeroes.
We were told that other people had been welcome to discuss the “grind” in the Faeroes because they were open to understanding the culture and traditions of the Faeroese that lie behind the continuation of the slaughter of the whales. We were told we are not welcome because we will not compromise. In other words, we had to understand and accept the slaughter in order to discuss it, and that we will not do.
It is our position that culture and tradition must never be a justification for cruelty and slaughter. When it comes to killing, we draw the line on compromise.
Since we cannot make an in-person presentation to the local citizens, the only manner that we can explain our position to the people of the Faeroes is to post this open letter on our website and social forums allowing those Faeroese who wish to understand why Sea Shepherd does what we do the opportunity to read about it.
We would have welcomed questions and an open exchange of views but this opportunity has been denied to us by circumstances beyond our control. However, if are given permission to do so, we still may dock our ship in Torshavn in Saturday, August 13 to invite people onboard for discussion with the Captain and crew.
In the meantime, for anyone in the Faeroes who wants to know why we are here, the below letter is our explanation.
Why We Defend the Whales
By Captain Paul Watson
They say the sea is cold, but the sea contains the hottest blood of all, and the wildest, the most urgent. -D.H. Lawrence
There is a profound intelligence in our oceans. This intelligence is embodied within the magnificently evolved brains of the cetacean nations - the dolphins and the whales!
Large, complex four-lobed brains, much larger brains in comparison to our smaller human three-lobed brains, with more convulsions on the neo-cortex area than our own. At a neurological level, cetacean brains display many of the features associated in human beings with sophisticated cognition. Like chimpanzees, dolphins and whales are essentially non-human persons. And that is why it is my sincere conviction that the killing of a whale, the killing of a dolphin, the killing of a pilot whale is – the moral equivalent of murder!
These are all socially complex sentient beings, and as recent scientific publications have confirmed, sperm whales and dolphins have demonstrated the ability to identify each other by individual names.
We are appealing to the Faeroese to evoke empathy for the whales and the dolphins of our planet.
For hundreds of years, we have viewed these intelligent species worth only the oil, baleen, and meat we could render from their bodies. Never have we as a species stopped to think, to feel, to comprehend what they think and feel or what they comprehend, as we have inflicted gross cruelty and ruthless violence upon this alien yet extraordinary earthly intelligence.
I have spent my entire life fighting to defend and protect whales and dolphins because I am convinced that we must learn to live in harmony with them, that there is so much that we can learn from them, and that we are standing upon the threshold of exciting discoveries into the real possibility of communicating with a non-human species.
We spend billions of dollars searching through the universe for extra terrestrial intelligence when there is an intelligence here upon our own planet less alien and as fascinating as anything we shall ever find in another solar system or galaxy.
Some have argued that if these beings are so intelligent and communicate so well than why do they not avoid the Faeroes? The answer to that is that they cannot do so when entire pods are exterminated down to the last little calf. Without any survivors, there is no single whale remaining to communicate to other pods the horror that awaits other pilot whales in the fjords and coves of the Faeroes.
The other reason is our human inability to comprehend non-manipulative intelligence. We equate intelligence with technology. Whereas cetaceans have no need for technology, yet they have the intelligence to live in harmony with their environment, whereas humanity does not appear to be so similarly blessed.
These are intelligent species that share this planet’s DNA with us. They are earthlings like we are, although more accurately, we all live upon the planet ocean, and not planet earth. Life began in our oceans and life flourishes in the sea, and if it does not, if the oceans die, the reality is that we will die with it. We cannot live upon this planet with a dead ocean. It is the heart of life and the source of all that we require and need for survival. There are 80 species of cetaceans in our oceans and these 80 species are our link to understanding the intimate relationship between the living ocean and all life.
Have you considered the pain that the whales endure in the grind? The searing agonizing pain of a knife slashing through soft tissue, of bones being broken, a huge heart pumping the hottest of blood into the sea as it also fills their lung cavities causing them to choke and suffocate, writhing in horrific convulsions in the shallows, as they see humans mercilessly club and cut, slash and stab with sharp knives, watching through shocked eyes as their life fades away.
Have you considered the trauma of these exceptionally intelligent sentient creatures as they see their families butchered around them, as mothers seek to protect their calves, helpless against the atrocity that surrounds them? Imagine the horror the mothers feel as their calves are ruthlessly stabbed and their young vocalize their distress in frequencies that no human can hear but are emotionally devastating to their mothers.
The physical pain is horrendous and the emotional pain incomprehensible to anyone who has not experienced it. Some will simply say that they are just animals. They feel nothing. They don’t think, they are just mindless bodies of meat.
But, they do think. They communicate with each other. They do feel. They have empathy for each other as is evident when they seek to protect one of their own when wounded. They mourn. They feel pain. They suffer. They are alive, healthy, and beautiful and we render them injured and dead, their entrails torn out, fetuses torn from the bellies of their mothers, gaping bleeding holes in their flesh, blood staining the sea, screams echoing down the fjords.
To not see this, to not feel this is simply denial…convenient, ignorant, arrogant and so very, very, wrong. It is so easy to deny this, and in our hominid arrogance we choose to be willfully ignorant in negating their sentience.
This is not about killing a cow, a sheep, or a pig raised for human consumption. This is akin to killing a mountain gorilla, a chimpanzee, or an orangutan. It is simply ethically and morally wrong.
And humanity as a whole agrees. Most of the people in the world have an affinity for the whales and dolphins. Most of the world feels their uniqueness and most of the world values these wondrous creatures alive. Most of the world views the “grind” with disgust, just as they view the slaughter of dolphins in Japan.
The Faeroese demand that their culture be respected, but how can civilized people anywhere respect such a barbaric tradition and barbarism as exactly what it is - an affront to decency, an insult to humanity, and a disgrace to civilization.
Anyone who has experienced the sight or interacted with whales in the wild knows and feels that these are special beings. Intuitively we know that they are intelligent and intuitively we care for their welfare. We rescue them from stranding, cut them loose from entanglement in our nets, and joyfully swim and watch them.
People’s lives have been changed by seeing whales and dolphins. People’s lives have been saved by dolphins. World champion free surfer Dave Rastovich owes his life to a dolphin that t-boned a great white shark that was about to strike him. There have been numerous examples of dolphins saving the lives of human beings. In New Zealand, America, Brazil, and recently in Scotland when pilot whales are beached and stranded, people volunteer from miles around to rescue them.
But not in the Faeroe Islands. Here you kill them. Why? Because it’s a tradition! It’s a part of your culture.
This last year, Catalonia and Ecuador banned bullfighting, which was also a tradition. Regions like Catalonia and Ecuador are waking up to the reality that traditions based on cruelty and slaughter have no place in the 21st Century.
Iceland and Norway have been rejected in their bid to join the European Union because they are whaling nations yet the Faeroes, a Protectorate of Denmark, gets to enjoy E.U. subsidies without having to abide by E.U. regulations. Europe has made it plain that the slaughter of whales is not consistent with the ideals of European civilization. These subsidies should be denied or else it translates into discrimination against Norway and Iceland. Denmark must be pressured by the E.U. to withhold subsidies until the Faeroes abides by the regulations protecting whales and opposing cruelty that all Europeans must respect.
Some people may argue that there are plenty of pilot whales although, no one really knows for sure how many there really are.
The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) states that the species is data deficient. In other words, no one knows just how many long-finned pilot whales exist in our oceans. The IUCN estimate is that there are approximately 200,000 short-finned pilot whales, and long-finned pilot whales numbers are much less.
Most likely, the entire world population of long-finned pilot whales is no larger that four times the population of the Faeroe Islands’ 47,000 residents. But this is not about numbers. It’s about morality. It’s about the remorseless slaughter of intelligent sensitive sentient beings. It is about murder.
There are some who will argue that murder applies only to the killing of human beings. I disagree. For example, if an extraterrestrial alien lifeform were to kill a human, would that be murder? Most of us would agree that it would indeed be murder. And the chances are that any extraterrestrial lifeform that would be technologically able to visit us may view themselves as superior and humans as nothing more than available protein.
There are those who argue that the Faeroese need to stop killing the whales because of the mercury in their bodies and the unhealthy effect that mercury has when passed onto human beings. There are few of those who ask what the mercury is doing for the chances of survival of the pilot whales themselves. Mercury threatens their survival in addition to the casualties inflicted by the grind.
Some Faeroese say that it is industrial nations like Britain and France that are to blame for the mercury yet choose to ignore that they themselves purchase the products from these industrial nations, and therefore, share in the responsibility for the high mercury and other heavy metal pollutants in the sea.
The reality is that our oceans are dying from overfishing, pollutants, acidification, climate change, and ecological disruption caused by habitat destruction and the imbalance in the relationship between species. This imbalance is threatening our oxygen supply and thus, even our very survival.
Phytoplankton produces most of the world’s oxygen. Zooplankton eats phytoplankton. Whales and other fish eat zooplankton. The percentage of sea life population that humans have not overfished is also disproportionately large. This is highly disruptive to the food chain. Sharks have survived through past major extinction events on the planet but their great ability to survive as a species is no match for the excesses of humanity, and their current diminishment is alarming. There has also been a 40% decrease in phytoplankton worldwide since 1950 (Scientific American). The rise in ocean acidification is believed to contribute to this decline of the phytoplankton.
The oceans are in trouble, and thus humanity is in trouble because if the oceans die – we die.
Finally for myself, I defend whales because a dying whale once spared my life, and since that day in June 1975, I have dedicated my body, heart and soul to defending whales and other species in our oceans. I do what I do for them and because of a deep intuitive empathy that I have for these extraordinary minds in the waters.
Empathy is the understanding of the feelings and thoughts of another and to feel as they feel and because I feel what they feel, I react as they would react if they had the means to do so, and because I am human, I have the means to react to defend them and I do. Empathy is the experience of a foreign consciousness and the ability to see what another sees, to feel what another feels, and to suffer what another suffers.
Thus when the knife penetrates the body of the whale, I feel it too and I can identify with the horror they experience. I know I cannot easily convince other humans to understand what I feel and what I have experienced but it is real and it is profound in its effect upon all that I have done and will continue to do until the end of my life. I saw a different and separate reality in the eye of a dying sperm whale and it is the reality of a glimpse into the soul of another alien, yet sentient being that has shaped all that I have done for almost four decades.
The world needs to know what is happening in the Faeroes and just as we brought the horror of the Taiji dolphin slaughter to the attention of the world with the Academy Award-winning film The Cove, we now must turn the barrel of the most powerful weapon ever invented on the Faeroes – the camera!
There is no place for this kind of barbaric tradition in the world of the 21st Century, in a world where species extinction is escalating, where the oceans are dying, and where the sheer numbers of human beings compromise the ecological integrity of an entire planet.
The Faeroese say we do not respect their culture and they are right – we do not. The Faeroese say we do not respect their traditions and they are right – we do not. We respect life and we respect that in our oceans there is an intelligence and a mind that we can someday communicate with using the powers of our own imagination and intelligence combined with empathy to achieve what many may consider an impossibility – interspecies communication.
Someday we may be able to do just that, unless the darker side of humanity succeeds in exterminating this intelligence, and deprives humanity of this wondrous possibility forever.
In the meantime, the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society will continue with our long odyssey of opposing the grind in the Faeroes. We have been doing so since 1983. We have never expected quick results. It took four decades to undermine the commercial market for Canadian seal products and it took seven years to drive the Japanese whalers out of the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary. We recognize that these social struggles take decades but we also recognize that it is imperative that we continue to oppose the slaughter of whales worldwide by anyone, anywhere, for any reason, and we will continue to do so.
With our current presence in the Faeroes, we have discovered many local people who oppose the pilot whale slaughter, while being confronted by others who violently support it. However, I do have hope that those who oppose it will ultimately win out over those who endorse it.
In 1977 we battled Australian whalers at their whaling stations, which were subsequently closed down in 1978, and today, Australia is the most passionate whale-defending nation in the world. We believe that the Japanese, the Norwegians, the Icelanders and the Faeroese, can be equally as passionate about defending the whales as their ancestors were about slaying them.
We have witnessed that evolution in consciousness in Australia and I believe we will also witness this in the Faeroes, these beautiful northern islands, ideal in every respect but for one horrific feature – the blood sacrifice of the grind.
It must be ended. It will be ended. The only question now is when.
Our task now is to make the rest of the world view the grind for what it is – an obscenity and a disgrace upon the escutcheon of humanity. And hopefully more and more Faeroese will view it as the rest of the world does and compassion will triumph over cruelty.
We have the most perfect weapon for the task – the camera – and we intend to use it.