Category Archives: Journalism

“We are not anti-Faroese” — GrindStop Logo Changed

Sea Shepherd has officially changed its Operation GrindStop 2014 logo.

Original Grindstop Logo

Original Grindstop Logo

The former logo, which bore the image of the Faroese flag, or Merkið, was criticized by Faroese for desecrating the image of their flag. Using Merkið in this manner is also illegal under Faroese law.

The new GrindStop logo

New GrindStop logo

The new logo represents a significant change. It now features bloody seas under the islet of Tindhólmur. References to the Faroese flag have been removed.

In an update to their Facebook page, Sea Shepherd writes, “The new campaign logo shows that we are not anti-Faroese, but we are opposed to and will remain present in the Faroe Islands to prevent the brutal slaughter of cetaceans.”

At a press conference in the Faroe Islands, they said that they made the decision to redesign the logo based on conversations with their supporters in the Faroe Islands. No mention was made of any legal concerns.

An article on the Faroese website aktuelt.fo quoted Sea Shepherd leader Scott West as saying, “We have listened to the Faroese people — we understand, that the flag is sacred for the Faroese, so we made a mistake using it in this year’s campaign logo.” (Vit hava lurtað eftir, hvat føroyingar siga – vit skilja, at flaggið er heilagt fyri føroyingar, tí var tað eitt mistak av okkum at brúka Merkið í búmerkinum fyri kampanjuna í ár.)

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The Sea Shepherd Grindstop 2014 Invasion

Faroese social media is exploding with commentary about Sea Shepherd's Grindstop 2014 anti-whaling campaign.

Faroese social media is exploding with commentary about Sea Shepherd’s Grindstop 2014 anti-whaling campaign.

The Faroe Islands is being invaded this summer by The Sea Shepherd Conversation Society, which is coming with more than 500 volunteers in an attempt to stop the Grindadráp, or Faroese whale hunt, by “monitoring the 23 grind bays, deterring the dolphins from shore, and taking direct action to intervene against a grind if necessary.” Operation Grindstop 2014 will be the largest land- and sea-based campaign in the organization’s history.

The Grindadráp and Sea Shepherd are both controversial in their own way.

The Grindadráp / Faroese Killing of Pilot Whales

Photo: FaroeIslandsPhoto.com / Kasper Solberg

Photo: FaroeIslandsPhoto.com / Kasper Solberg

The Faroese have hunted pilot whales for hundreds of years, and their meat and blubber formed an invaluable part of their diet in the past, when food was scarce in this remote part of the world. Even today, whale meat and blubber is the Faroese national dish, and the hunt is considered one of the cornerstones of Faroese culture. The main threat to the consumption of pilot whale, as the Faroese see it, are the health effects of the high mercury content in whale meat today.

The pilot whale is not listed as an endangered species (as some anti-whaling activists claim) and the hunt is not considered to be a threat by organizations such as the International Union for Conservation of Nature, the American Cetacean Society, and the North Atlantic Marine Mammal Commission to pose a threat to the species. The IUCN’s Red List listing of the pilot whale says that “the Faroese catch is probably sustainable.”

While some argue that the tradition is outdated and unnecessarily cruel, especially since it involves the killing of such intelligent or otherwise special animals, many Faroese argue that killing whales for food in the grindadráp is as humane, if not more so, than the slaughter of factory-raised animals, which merely has the public relations advantage of taking place behind closed doors so the blood doesn’t disturb the grocery-shopping, meat-eating public.

For more on the grindadráp controversy, please feel free to read Faroe Islander Elin Brimheim Heinesen’s blog post, Why Most Arguments Against Grindadráp Fail, the official Faroese whaling website, this PBS documentary or information directly from highly regarded conservationist groups.

The Sea Shepherd Conservation Society

Image: seashepherd.org

Image: seashepherd.org

Sea Shepherd is an environmental activist group whose founder, Paul Watson, split off from Greenpeace due to his confrontational tactics. Many people around the world see Sea Shepherd’s members and volunteers as heroes protecting the whales, and they have a large media presence including, in the past, a reality TV show called Whale Wars. Others, however, decry the organization’s disregard for facts and their vigilante actions (they have been called eco-terrorists and faced charges for assault and sabotage, among others).

For more on the Sea Shepherd controversy, you can find many news articles about Paul Watson and the organization, such as this one from The Telegraph.

Grindstop 2014: The Beginning

The Sea Shepherd Grindstop volunteers started arriving in the Faroes last week, provoking a wide range of reactions from Faroe Islanders. Many wish the protestors would not be allowed into the country. Others say that it is important to treat them with respect as visitors, and that, on the bright side, they will be forced to spend money in the islands. There is also a small group of Faroe Islanders who are themselves against the grindadráp, despite the inherent difficulty of going against the established culture in a small community. A Facebook group called “Faroe Islanders against the Grind” counts 104 members.

Faroe Islanders Against the Grind

Faroe Islanders Against the Grind

In comparison, another Facebook group was created about three hours ago to call for banning Sea Shepherd from the Faroe Islands. The group currently has 712 members.

Ban Sea Shepherd

Ban Sea Shepherd

Whatever the attitude, the presence of such a large group is bound to have an impact on the islands this summer. With fewer than 50,000 people living in the Faroe Islands, 500 protestors can be considered the equivalent of 3 million foreign Muslims, Jews and vegetarians invading the United States to demand that Americans stop slaughtering pigs and consuming pork products.

#GrindStop2014, #HotdogStop2015, anyone?

In the first week, not much of note has happened on either side. The Faroese are waging their own anti-SS social media campaign, sharing such critical news stories as photographic evidence of Sea Shepherd volunteers stealing food from a ferry buffet or mocking Sea Shepherd operatives for calling the police when a group of rowdy Faroese came towards one of their boats calling them names one night in the capital.

One satirical Faroese website even went to far as to announce a fake grindadráp, which it said would be held at Vatnsoyrar — the only village that is not on the coastline, but rather on the shores of the largest Faroese lake! The explanation was that in order to avoid Sea Shepherd, they would shoot the whales through a waterfall. I don’t know whether any Sea Shepherd people showed up in Vatnsoyrar, but I did find the link posted to their Grindstop Facebook page by concerned readers.

Fake Grindadráp in Vatnsoyrar

Fake Grindadráp in Vatnsoyrar

Faroese people have also taken to defending themselves and asking questions back at the activists through social media. Oddur Á Lakjuni wrote, “I’m wondering here: The Faroese kill more sheep than they do whales… But there’s not a word of criticism from anywhere. Both are killed for food – although neither is absolutely necessary for survival (and to be honest: which item of food is, when you take it in isolation?)”

The volunteers have been scouting out beaches and appear to be rather bored, if social media updates consisting almost exclusively of volunteers looking out onto the empty sea and videos such as this one are anything to go by:

Mimmy Vágsheyg, a Faroese woman who opened a new cafe in Klaksvík this year, says that anti-whaling advocates have been harassing her online for months, sending her messages filled with graphic images and leaving phony bad reviews on her business listings. Vágsheyg does not serve whale meat at her cafe, but thinks that the group must be indiscriminately targeting Faroese businesses. “I’m just getting started here, I don’t need this!” she said.

Since Sea Shepherd started arriving en masse last week, Vágsheyg says they have come into her cafe to repeatedly check her menus for incriminating items. “I don’t understand why they come every day. Do they think I am hiding the whale?”

Imagining the Faroes, Part I

Now that I have been in the Faroe Islands for a few weeks, I have gotten started with my research interviews. I plan to talk to several Faroe Islanders of varying ages, genders, and places of residence about how the Faroe Islands are represented to foreigners through various media channels, and how they feel about those representations.

So far, I have conducted three formal interviews and more than a dozen informal conversations on this topic. One trend that has started to suggest itself is that the older interviewees have been more positive about representations of the Faroe Islands than the younger interviewees, even suggesting that the tourism imagery shows the islands in an unrealistically good light, while the younger interviewees seemed more bitter about anti-whaling sentiment and outdated representations.

A two-page spread from Visit Faroe Islands' new tourism booklets. This is one of the images I ask respondents to consider during the last part of the interview.

A two-page spread from Visit Faroe Islands’ new tourism booklets. This is one of the images I ask respondents to consider in the final part of the interview.

One amusing wrinkle in the interviews has been that many respondents have recognized people they know in the example media I’m presenting to them. In my very first interview, I showed part of a video, and my interviewee asked me if I would like him to introduce me to the people speaking in the video. In another interview, when I showed the above photo of the Faroese ring dance, the interviewee told me that she recognized “almost everyone” in the photograph, as they were all from Klaksvík!

When I was planning the interviews, the possible frames I felt that I had seen in representations of the Faroe Islands were exotification (through emphasis on the traditional ways of life or the remote, wild natural conditions), trivialization (due to the nation’s small size), and conflict (presenting the Faroe Islands as backwards, especially in regards to the controversial grindadráp).

So far, no one has mentioned the trivialization frame, except to say that many people are not aware of the Faroe Islands at all. One man told me an anecdote in which he was travelling and tried to explain where he was from to some people who had never heard of the Faroes. He said that it was in between Scotland and Iceland, and they insisted that no such country existed. He looked around for a map of Europe, and when he found one, the map itself was missing the Faroe Islands! He had to find a second map to prove that he was, indeed, from a real place.

Here are the main points I’ve heard so far about depictions of the Faroe Islands:

A screenshot and description of the Danish tv documentary, "Kvindeflugt fra Færoerne," which is about the gender disparity in the Faroe Islands.

A screenshot and description of the Danish tv documentary, “Kvindeflugt fra Færoerne,” which is about the gender disparity in the Faroe Islands. This is one of the images I ask respondents to consider in the final part of the interview.

– They focus more on old traditions, such as the ring dance, and less on growing, current trends like modern music and cuisine.
– They are antiquated, and haven’t caught up with the changes of the last 10-30 years.
– They imply that everyone in the Faroes is a sheep farmer or a fisherman.
– They play down or ignore the existence of modern institutions like hospitals, shops, and the University.

– Information about the Grindadráp is filled with inaccurate claims, such as that the pilot whales are endangered or killed for fun.

– They have beautiful photos and descriptions of the unique Faroese nature.
– However, they could be painting an unrealistic picture of good weather and endlessly clear skies, conditions which are rare in the Faroes though they do occur.
– They ignore the winter almost completely in favor of coverage of the brief tourism season (June-August).

– They are concerned that tourists might not understand that the Faroese weather is uncertain and changeable, and that everything in the Faroes is expensive.

A sheep walking on the road leading to the village of Múli.

A sheep walking on the road leading to the village of Múli. This is one of the images I ask respondents to consider in the final part of the interview.

So far, one of the most intriguing things to come up in an interview was one woman’s suggestion that many of the problems she saw in representations of the Faroe Islands had the same problematic root — that foreigners almost never travel to the islands in the winter. Not only does that ignore more than half of the year in the Faroes, she thinks the long, dark, stormy winter has a huge effect on the Faroese culture, and that, without understanding that, it’s impossible to explain the Faroese mentality or perspective on a wide range of issues.

What am I doing in the Faroe Islands?

My name is Miranda Metheny, I’m a little American girl from the Missouri School of Journalism, and I’ll be spending this summer in the Faroe Islands to do my master’s project.

The Old Town of Tórshavn, the capital of the Faroe Islands.

The Old Town of Tórshavn, the capital of the Faroe Islands.

I first visited the Faroe Islands for a short visit in 2012. I was overwhelmed by their unique beauty and culture — simply put, it was the most remarkable and fascinating place I had ever been.

When I went home, I read everything I could get my hands on about the Faroe Islands. Unfortunately, I found that most foreign articles about the islands were based on short stays, were structured along stereotypical lines and exotified the place by focusing more on the extremes (such as the more remote islands) and on the past than on the complex and modern society most Faroe Islanders now live in. In short, they framed the Faroe Islands in certain limited ways that left out a lot of the reality I had experienced, even briefly.

When it came time to finish my master’s degree at the University of Missouri with one final journalism project, I saw my chance to come back to this amazing place. I’ll be here until August, learning the Faroese language and experiencing the culture from as many angles as possible.

For my project, I will be taking photographs and writing articles about travel and cultural topics such as Faroese music and food, as well as the lives of young women here. That last topic is especially interesting to me as I fall within the demographic (except for the “Faroese” part, of course), the Faroe Islands are currently experiencing a disproportionate shortage of women, and the coverage I have seen of this issue has been especially prone to framing and stereotyping. I’ll also interview Faroese people about stereotypes, cultural identity, and the representation of the Faroes in foreign media.

I hope you will enjoy following my adventures in the amazing “Land of Maybe” (so called because little is certain in a place with such changeable weather). Feel free to contact me by commenting, sending me an email or looking me up on LinkedIn or Facebook. I can’t wait to get started!

Múli was the last village in the Faroe Islands to get electricity. Now it is all but abandoned, but many sheep live there and walk among it's houses.

Múli was the last village in the Faroe Islands to get electricity. Now it is all but abandoned, but many sheep live there and walk among its houses.