I’ve seen various articles on the so-called ‘Denmark dolphin slaughter’ posted all day on social media. See an example here. I know the pictures look shocking but there’s surely more to it? The more I read the less convinced I am that all the outrage is actually well-placed (as well-meaning as I’m sure it is).
Firstly a few obvious corrections should be made. Number one: it’s not really Denmark we’re talking about here. This happens on the Faroe islands - an autonomous, self-governing region lying isolated in the Norwegian Sea midway between the UK, Iceland and Norway.
Next, the main cetacean killed by the islanders is a long-finned pilot whale, not a ‘calderon’ dolphin, which doesn’t actually appear to exist outside of the articles I’ve seen posted today.
Now neither of these facts make much difference to the argument of whether such slaughter is right or wrong but it’s a warning to those blindly trusting these pretty sensationalist article’s ‘facts’ on the issue.
Now to the morality. This killing is not done, as reported by the articles, as some kind of ‘rite of passage’ by the islanders. Instead it allows the people of these pretty isolated islands, which have very little useful land to sustain land-based agriculture, an alternative food source to help them through the winter. The killing is not done for any commercial gain, with the meat only being distributed to and used by the local community.
The type of pilot whale killed is not considered an endangered species and, with around 0.1% of the population killed each year, the hunt is deemed to be sustainable by the criteria of the IUCN (International Union for Converservation of Nature).
Most importantly we should note that it is against the laws of the islands to cause any unnecessary suffering to these animals during the hunt. There are strictly enforced laws at each stage, with the pilot whales having to be sighted close enough to shore to prevent a lengthly pursuit and then being killed by hand in the shallows to prevent the type of non-fatal wound by harpoon as can be possible from whaling ships. Ultimately, the death of the animal is achieved by a cut to their spinal cord, through an artery, which though culminating in a lot of blood in the water, ensures that the animals die in around 30 seconds or less.
Now this process is indeed gruesome. The pictures of the blood-red sea are shocking to most. But is this really more gruesome or more inhumane than the commercial intensive farming procedures commonplace throughout the developed world? If we are to question the ethics of those on the Faroe islands should we not also be questioning all farming procedures which cause the unnecessary death of animals?
Your answer to this may be yes. Fair enough. It was my answer for around 7 years when I was a strict vegetarian. I have since chosen to resume eating meat since ultimately I do not believe that the slaughter of animals itself is wrong. I do still think however that any lengthy and unnecessary suffering of animals is wrong and should be prevented wherever possible.
My opinion would be that if, like we see in the slaughter of whales and dolphins on the Faroe islands, we can enforce all possible measures to reduce the suffering of animals slaughtered for human consumption then we will be making a huge leap of moral progress. In many areas I’d say our standards are actually lower than those maintained by the Faroese in these hunts. For a start, at least these pilot whales live a free and happy life before death. Perhaps our outrage could be better placed?