Parrot Time is a linguistic and cultural emagazine published bimonthly by the Parleremo language learning community. The magazine’s editor-in-chief, Erik Zidowecki, contacted me based on our conversations about the Faroe Islands to ask whether I would be interested in helping him put together a special issue focusing on Faroese topics. Naturally, I was very excited to work on the project. With the help of four Faroe Islanders, we published eleven articles on subjects ranging from summer festivals on the islands and the new feature film Ludo to the presence of Danish in Faroese life and the Faroese perspective on the whaling controversy. I’m very happy with the way the magazine came together with such a wide variety of pieces and beautiful photographs.
From my article “Coming Home to Faroese” in Parrot Time’s special Faroe Islands issue.
“Coming Home to Faroese” was my main feature story for the magazine. By exploring the richness that learning Faroese has brought to my life, I wrote about the challenges and rewards of learning a language with a small number of speakers. Here’s an excerpt:
“I remember how it felt to speak Faroese down in Copenhagen, to navigate through the crowded city and yet feel as if I had never left the islands when I heard the language I had learned to love so well. The Danes and other foreigners that passed were none the wiser that something didn’t add up, that I was an imposter, that I didn’t belong. In a way I did. In that moment, I felt I could just glimpse, just taste, that feeling of being a part of something… smaller. Something more intimate. Of what it meant to know just from a language that you were home.”
In the wake of all the recent whale hunting action, there are now a surprising number of involved parties in the Faroe Islands. Here’s a little “Who’s Who” and update about each of them!
Vice Magazine – Ed Ou and Elise Coker
A duo of journalists have been spending a few months in the Faroe Islands to create a documentary about the whaling for Vice magazine. I have followed their postings in various Facebook groups and even had a chat with Ed myself. I am very excited to see their documentary, as I believe it will be one of the most balanced explorations of the grindadráp tradition to come out in international media so far.
The two were, of course, happy to have been in the islands during the Sandoy grind, where they gathered a lot of footage. They have also met with many Faroese whalers, families, and various other parties in their attempt to portray the multiple sides of the issue. Ou says that while the grindadráp itself will be the single biggest focus of their work, “we’re also showing other things, like daily life, we’re showing grocery stores, just people doing their thing, music, all that stuff… and that will like hopefully put the grind into context.”
Ed Ou and Elise Coker filming for a Vice documentary about the Grind.
“The Propaganda Busters” – Tony Marano and friends
Marano has spent a lot of his visit looking for and confronting “clown cars” full of Sea Shepherd volunteers.
While some grindadráp proponents are in fact against the Japanese whale hunt and disagree with Marano’s views on that issue, and others simply find Marano’s approach overly silly or “cheap”, others find him hilarious and are happy to see Sea Shepherd getting some harassment of their own.
“I must say that although Tony is giving them back some of their own medicine, and in a funny way sometimes, I find his approach a bit cheap, turning this whole affair of the grind & Taiji into a circus act, when it’s something very important to the Japanese local fisherman and the locals of the Faroe Islands; I believe it deserves more serious and respectful consideration than clowing around like Tony is doing. I’m starting to feel that he’s just going from place to place looking for controversial subjects to fuel his “Texas daddy Propaganda Buster blog / business than doing it out of genuine concern for the locals of Taiji or the Faroe Islands. Well, just saying that won’t help me make new friends I suppose, and sorry Tony if you read this; at least you’re out there while I’m back home not helping much, but I prefer to be honest than to make new friends or holding back what I feel about all this just to be popular on Facebook, haha. So everyone & anyone I have offended, please forgive me for my respectful honesty.”
To which Anker Eli Petersen replied:
“Ahh well, humour is one of many means to fight fanatism. And I have to admit, that I find Tony’s satire quite amusing. Especially when he calls them “girly men” – an insult to the phony “bad-ass” image tey (sic) try to create for themselves. :)”
Faroese Public Opinion
Most Faroese people were happy to see a successful grind take place on Sandoy on August 30th. Some were almost as happy about the police actions against Sea Shepherd — when volunteers from the organization tried to interfere, which is illegal under Faroese law, several were arrested and Sea Shepherd boats were also seized.
Coverage of the event from Kringvarp Føroya — click image for their story.
Katrin Petersen, a mother of three who lives on Sandoy, told me:
“Yes, I was there (at the Grind). And this time I also took some whale meat as well. I have otherwise been a pretty strict non-Grind-eater for many years. Because I was thinking of the contamination (of mercury). I thought that, “as long as I am of childbearing age…” But you know — these Sea Shepherd people provoke me! They shouldn’t be the ones to decide, whether we eat grind or not. And I am NOT against the killing, I have only been concerned about eating mercury…
So, I ate a meal of pilot whale for the first time in years — and mamma mia, it was delicious!
I think that the grindadráp went well. And also the work of the police went well. But — I think, it can’t go on like this, that we have three helicopters and 20 policemen there at the grind! So — it went fine, but I’m a little bit worried about the next time, the next year, and the next 5 years…”
(In the Faroese Original: Ja, eg var har. Og hesaferð fekk eg grindapart, eisini. Eg havi annars verið nokkso strict ikki-grindaetari í´nógv ár. Tí eg hugsi um dálkingina. Havi hugsað, at “so leingi eg eri í aldri at fáa børn…” Men veitst tú – hesi SS-fólkini provokera meg! Tey skulu so ikki gera av, um eg eti grind ella ikki. Og eg eri IKKI ímóti drápinum, eg havi bara ikki hug at eta kyksilvur….
So eg át eina grindamáltíð fyri fyrstu ferð í áravís – og mamma mia, tað smakkaði væl!
Eg haldi, drápið gekk væl. Og eisini arbeiðið hjá løgregluni gekk væl. Men – eg hugsi, at tað kann ikki blíva við, at vit hava 3 tyrlur og 20 politimenn við í grind! So – tað gekk fínt, men eg stúri eitt sindur fyri næstu ferð, næsta ár, og tey næstu 5 árini…)
Some Faroese are opposed to the whale hunt, and may stand with or separate from Sea Shepherd on the issue. After the grind on Sandoy, for example, I saw one Faroe Islander post an image of a famous Faroese waterfall, but with the water photoshopped to be blood-red like the sea becomes at a grind.
“What we observed and the documentation we have secured is priceless. The publicity from the arrests has been amazing.
The Faroese police in the beginning saw the potential consequences and they said that it was best if a Grind did not take place because otherwise it would play right into Sea Shepherd’s hand. They were right.”
He also happily posted a political cartoon that was drawn about the event on Portal.fo:
”The objective of Sea Shepherd is to get the Faroese people caught in all the traps that they lay out in front of us.”
Not only did Watson appreciate the publicity and footage from the Sandoy grind, he was also able to identify further silver linings in the situation:
“…Now that this slaughter has taken place, we can mention that over the last 85 days, Sea Shepherd boat crews have deflected three pods of whales away from the island before the killers could spot them. Unfortunately covering 18 islands is a difficult task, but I am proud of the fact that our volunteers saved those whales and made a valiant attempt to save these 33.
The positive side of this encounter is we now have evidence to implicate the Danish government and Sea Shepherd will take this evidence to the European Parliament to demand that action be taken against Denmark for collaboration with an illegal slaughter of whales. No European member of the EU may be involved with whaling, and although the Faroe Islands are not a member of the EU, they receive massive subsidies from the EU through Denmark. The Faroese may be exempt but Denmark is not and now we have the evidence that pilot whale blood in on the hands of Danish sailors and Danish Police. What is rotten in the Faroes is also very much rotten in Denmark.”
The occupation of the Faroe Islands by Sea Shepherd has continued throughout the summer. From my perspective, there has been surprisingly little actual conflict. Until August, most of the interactions between the Faroese people and Sea Shepherd were petty, as Faroese people would accuse Sea Shepherd of minor crimes and mischief and share photographs of them driving and sitting around. Sea Shepherd volunteers, for their parts, seemed to be rather bored by the lack of action. To the surprise of many, they didn’t even disrupt Ólavsøka, the Faroese national holiday.
Our photoshoot in Tjørnuvík, which was filmed by Sea Shepherd for unknown purposes.
I myself was filmed by Sea Shepherd activists while taking photographs one day in the sea by Tjørnuvík… which had absolutely nothing to do with whaling. I can’t wait to see this footage show up in some sort of propaganda. I’m genuinely looking forward to it.
In the last month, however, things have really heated up…
July 30th, 2014
Sea Shepherd prevents a possible Grindadráp at Haraldssund
Even then, some Faroese believed that the decision had more to do with fear of Sea Shepherd than with practical concerns. For example, commenters on Norðlýsið wrote:
My translation for non-Faroese speakers:
Kristian Olsen: Why not just say it how it is? You don’t dare to take the pod, what a bunch of idiots, it’s an embarrassment to call oneself Faroese these days. 😦
If it isn’t wise to go with small boats, so much the better, because therefore the SS boats can’t go either! And one would easily be able to stop all of the SS people south of the tunnel so they can’t disrupt anything… no, what a shame I say. And there are very many who agree with me about this.
Pauli Steinberg: Kristian, sometimes it’s worth it to use your head. I hope of course that we have many grindadráp this year. But tactically, I think it would be fortunate, so to say, if no grinds happened while the SS people were here. They came here and thought we were barbaric, undeveloped vikings who killed whales with our bare hands. Almost all of them are going back home with completely different thoughts about us. No, I think that we should be kind and hospitable with the SS-ers. The grind which is possibly coming in to Hvannasund should be observed and sent out again, because we are a people who study whales, we are used to doing that. And let the SS-ers go home happy with their weeks in the Faroe Islands. But I also think that the political authorities need to stand up and prevent such people from invading our land.
Ólavur Petersen: It’s a nice thought, Pauli Steinberg, but the only thing that would accomplish is that Sea Shepherd would say, “No whales where (sic) killed in Faroe Islands while we were there,” and if we let this one go, they will be right. To make it so that Sea Shepherd is right is one of the worst things we can do.
Katja Eyð Rafn Kristinnsdóttir: Pauli Steinberg and they will come back again for the next many years with the same thought. So no grind the next 40+ years.
This is Haraldssund, where the grind came on July 30th. The causeway completely blocks the channel between the open ocean and Klaksvík, so the whales could not have been driven in towards a whaling harbor. The possible plan the next day would have been to drive the whales back out towards the sea and around the island of Kunoy (on the left).
The official decision was to wait until the next morning for a decision on what to do with the grind… if it hadn’t swum out to open sea on its own by then. But that night, the Sea Shepherd crew took their boats to the scene and chased the pod out into the open sea despite the bad weather. Many commented that it must have been everything they had hoped for — the successful prevention of a grind at dramatic personal risk. Such interference is against Faroese law, and Sea Shepherd was therefore reported to the police.
Livar Nysted, a Faroese ocean-rower and artist, watched most of the situation unfold from the mountains. In an interview with the Faroese media about the incident, Nysted complained that nothing was done to prevent Sea Shepherd from driving the whales to sea, and said it was unbelievable and embarrassing that “70 hippies” could “put us in our place.”
Grind-free seas off the village of Æðuvík. No grindadráp occurred during my two-and-a-half month stay in the Faroe Islands.
August 30th, 2014
Grindadráp on Sandoy:
33 Whales Killed, 14 Sea Shepherd Activists Arrested
The showdown both sides were waiting for finally occurred last week. A small grind of 33 whales was sighted, pursued, and slaughtered on Sandoy. The Sea Shepherd volunteers on Sandoy went to the sea to try to prevent the grindadráp and were arrested by Faroese police with help from the Danish navy.
The arrest of 14 Sea Shepherd activists generated a lot of international media coverage. As The Telegraph reports:
“Fourteen animal rights activists have been detained on the Faroe island of Sandoy in the North Atlantic while trying to stop a controversial dolphin hunt, their organisation has said. The activists were detained on Saturday when attempting to save a pod of 33 pilot whales, members of the dolphin family, as the mammals were driven to shore to be killed by waiting hunting parties, according to environmental group Sea Shepherd.
“The 14 have been under arrest since Saturday, and three of our boats have also been seized,” Lamya Essemlali, president of Sea Shepherd France, told AFP.
Large numbers of pilot whales are slaughtered each year on the Faroe Islands, an autonomous territory within the kingdom of Denmark. The method involves the mammals being forced into a bay by flotillas of small boats before being hacked to death with hooks and knives.”
It should be said that the method of killing described by The Telegraph is in direct opposition to how the Faroese say the whales have been killed there for many years. According to their laws and animal welfare regulations, “a regulation spinal lancemust be used to sever the spinal cord, which also severs the major blood supply to the brain, ensuring both loss of consciousness and death within seconds. This, in addition to the supplementary use of the traditional whaling knife, if necessary, is the most efficient and humane means of killing beached pilot whales safely, with many participants involved at the same time.” (whaling.fo)
The Faroese say they are continually researching and implementing new technology and methods as they seek the most humane way to kill the pilot whales for their own consumption, and compare their methods to those used in commercial slaughterhouses.
Those further interested can also read Killing Methods and Equipment in the Faroese Pilot Whale Hunt, the English translation of a working paper by Senior Veterinarian, Jústines Olsen, originally presented in Danish at the NAMMCO Workshop on Hunting Methods for Marine Mammals, held in Nuuk, Greenland in February 1999.
“Despite being a member nation of the European Union and subject to laws prohibiting the slaughter of cetaceans, Denmark has officially shown its support of — and now direct collaboration with — the Faroese whalers by sending the Danish Navy to defend this archaic, mass slaughter of whales in the Faroe Islands alongside Faroese police.”
However, I have not read that he had any evidence for these claims. And the way that in.fo wrote about the closure made it sound as if it had more to do with opposing the Sea Shepherd organization’s work than about a scarcity of toilet paper.
“In addition to using and misusing the hall, they have also stolen toilet paper and other things in the building,” he said.
Brandur Sandoy, who is also a member of parliament, personally thinks that the government has been unbelievably passive on the topic of Sea Shepherd, which he is seizing.
“We win nothing by letting ourselves be oppressed and watch, while Sea Shepherd drives the pods of pilot whales back out to sea, so we can’t get them.”
Brandur Sandoy says, that he plans to do that which is in his power to do in order to show the parliament that the Faroese in the question of Sea Shepherd ought to have been handled otherwise than it has been until now.
(- Umframt at tey bæði hava brúkt og misbrúkt hølini, hava tey eisini stjolið wc-pappír og annað í húsinum, sigur hann. Sjálvur heldur Brandur Sandoy, sum eisini er løgtingslimur í samgongu, at landsstýrið er ótrúliga passivt í málinum um Sea Shepherd, sum hann tekur til. – Vit vinna einki við at lata okkum kúga og hyggja at, meðan Sea Shepherd rekur grindirnar út á hav aftur, so vit ikki fáa fatur í teimum. Brandur Sandoy sigur, at hann ætlar at gera tað, hann er mentur, fyri at vísa løgtinginum á, at føroyingar í spurninginum um Sea Shepherd áttu at havt handlað øðrvísi, enn gjørt hevur verið higartil.)
The Toilet Paper Scandal
In response, the Sea Shepherd land crews on Sandoy denied the claims and said that while there was a shortage of toilet paper in the facility, it had nothing to do with them and they had in fact been bringing their own toilet paper to use there.
The Sea Shepherd members then bought 200 rolls of good toilet paper and tried to give them to the mayor of Sandoy. They claimed the move was a goodwill gesture, but the way Paul Watson wrote about it made it clear that it was intended to humiliate the mayor. He titled the post:
The Great Sandoy Toilet Paper Scandal
Or How to Deal with a Constipated Mayor who is Simply Full of Shit.
Paul Watson then spent several paragraphs mocking the mayor for misspelling the name of the organization on the signs, where it was written “Sea Shepard.” As far as I know, Paul Watson does not speak or read Faroese, but he felt that it was fair game to mock a Faroese person’s spelling in English.
“Amazing that he could not spell Shepherd being that he lives on a group of islands called Faroe and Faroe means “sheep” and there are more sheep than islanders in the entire country. For future reference Mr. Mayor think of Sheep herd and simply drop one “e” to get Shepherd.”
He then wrote that when they tried deliver the paper,
“Mayor Brandur was not very grateful. In fact he was downright grumpy and seemed to be somewhat constipated, which of course was understandable, seeing the hygienic pickle he was in. He locked himself in his office or maybe his bathroom and would not come out, hoping that every one would go away.”
“Yes, they were here in the municipality, but they got the same answer as before — that they are not welcome to use our facilities. That, which they had brought with them, they were asked to take with them again when they left.”
(Jú, tey vóru her í kommununi, men tey fingu sama svar sum áður – at tey ikki eru vælkomin at brúka fasilitetirnar hjá okkum. Tað, sum tey høvdu við sær, vórðu tey biðin um at taka við sær aftur, tá tey fóru.)
The mayor said that the facilities in question were being closed anyway, now that the peak tourism season has ended.
“Shortly after there was a grind on Sandoy, and the police sent many helicopters and officers to support the grindadráp, but truthfully also to search for the vanished toilet paper roll, and we have heard, that a diver found this roll on the bottom of the sea, unused. The foreigners undoubtedly felt threatened, and therefore they threw the toilet paper in the sea without using it. Today it is quite valuable, and could doubtlessly be resold abroad.”
(Stutt eftir var grind á Sandi, og løgreglan sendi fleiri tyrlur og løgreglufólk fyri at stuðla grindadrápinum, men sanniliga eisini fyri at leita eftir horvnu WC-rulluni, og vit hava hoyrt, at ein kavari fann hesa rullu á havsins botni, óbrúkta. Tey fremmandu hava ivaleyst følt seg hótt, og tí hava tey blakað WC-rulluna til havs, uttan at brúka hana. Í dag er hon sera nógv verd, og kann ivaleyst seljast fyri mill. Uttanlands.)
When it becomes very difficult to separate truth and satire, you know a situation that started out silly has really gotten ridiculous.
Sea Shepherd has officially changed its Operation GrindStop 2014 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.
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.)
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
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.
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
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
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.
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
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?”