The Faroe Islands tourist brochures don’t mention surf or whales. So what the hell are Nat and I doing here?
Rolling along on a gray sea under gray clouds toward ethereal gray islands we seem to be on a trajectory to the end of the Earth.
Wasn’t it only yesterday Natalie Fox of Chicks with Sticks and I were hanging out in Morocco after meeting at the IWC in Agadir? A small crew of us voicing up for whales and flying the flag for Sea Shepherd and Surfers for Cetaceans.
We scattered to the four winds that blew me onto the deck of the Steve Irwin for a month in the Mediterranean and then caught a plane and an overnight ferry to Lerwick in the Shetland Islands to find this ship, a sleek, retrofitted trawler 43 meters in length called the Golfo Azzurro, commissioned by the Brigitte Bardot Foundation and the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society to interfere with or prevent the notorious Grind of the Faroese.
You know the Grind. It’s the persistent bloodbath massacre of beautiful Pilot whales driven into bays by crazed Faroese males in speedboats slashing and stabbing our cetacean friends. It’s a medieval horror show of goblins and trolls in a bloodlust frenzy, killing the angels of the sea. There are razor-gangs slamming blades and big hooks into the Pilots and dragging them thrashing in screaming agony up rocky shores to slice their heads off.
Blood everywhere. Bays full of blood. Stomachs slashed open and entrails spilled out along docks. Eviscerated pregnant mothers with their unborn children and placentas hacked out by young boys wielding knives.
Mothers and daughters of the sea savagely slaughtered on Mother Earth. Real hero stuff. Ripping the wings off butterflies.
And then when the whales are silenced and all dead and cold, the goblins fill up tip-trucks and dump the corpses to rot. Meeting up and bonding all over again at church the following Sunday is the next big thing to look forward to. One wonders for whom the bell tolls.
Jesus Christ. Where the fuck is he then? Surely it is the Devil who has a taken up residency here, sucking blood straight out of the ground.
Looking at the isolated hamlets dwarfed by the sweeping desolate plains, plunging waterfalls, and towering cliffs rising up into perpetual cloudiness, it’s easy to think that the Faroese are completely lost in the fog. A cold shroud of shame and a loneliness of spirit wrap around these islands of ferocious beauty. It sullenly seeps down the steep slopes into the sweet chalets and schools. It spreads out across the harbors in a blanket of misery…curling in a spectral wraith around the church belfries.
No amount of righteous hymns sung in humble piety will ever cleanse the Faroese flock of this dark genocide. It has been etched into the modern history of human misadventure as surely as every other crusade of cruelty justified with parochial religious certainty.
Who are these Pilot whales so ruthlessly despised in this faraway skeleton of bony islands? Globicephalus melaena. Black round heads. They’re nearly six meters long, sleek and shiny black with lovely, long white belly stripes. They’re a gracious tribe of the greater orca dolphin clan; a happy ocean crew in elegant tuxedo wetsuits.
So why do the Faroese at large, despise the Pilot whales?
Why the Faroese aren’t fiercely protective of the whales in this new age of global cultural exchange and wild-nature tourism is a mystery. Whale watching would certainly be a major asset to the region, but will there be any whales left when tribe after tribe are being annihilated?
Behind the numbers game, the reality is a ruthless genocide of cetacean society. Ancient bloodlines terminated, tribes dispersed and families shattered, leaving traumatized orphaned children of the sea without their parents, siblings and cousins.
For all their innate joyfulness, forbearance and offers of friendship to humans, the Pilot whales are being ground into oblivion.
Maybe seals, too. That’s a whole other issue, but where are the seals? We have only seen one so far. And no Pilot whales, not one. Actually no fish either, but there are a lot of big fishing trawlers and beautiful arctic shearwaters gliding off our stern disappointed by our vegan scraps.
Despite all its austere North Atlantic grandeur, this place is starting to feel like one big marine graveyard.
So here we are, fifteen of us from eleven countries with one common goal: to keep whales out of the bays and stop the Grind. It has become a mission where whales are noticeable only by their peculiar absence.
The Faroese notice us wherever we turn up, and we have been subject to several boardings by Customs and Police officers, including a protracted rummage throughout the ship, and being shadowed by a Danish war ship.
It was a relief to give up our “birdwatching” story, and run up Sea Shepherd and Bardot flags I had made from a bedsheet and ship’s paint.
The locals started to show signs of agitation as the Golfo patrolled throughout the islands, and often we drifted at night to be able to avoid any more boardings. As we went from inlet to inlet we laced them with experimental acoustic deflection devices in the hope of persuading the whales to stay out of the bays.
The cold, wet, and foggy weather persisted. Neither Pilot whales nor a Grind eventuated. We really did begin to wonder if the Pilots even exist any more in this gutted sea.
Natalie managed to buy a 6’4” three-finned Fish while we were in Lerwick and come high water or hell, she was up for getting into the cold grey-green sea and showing surfers’ opposition to the Grind, supporting for the beleaguered Pilots of the Faroes.
So one day when the sun broke through the clouds briefly, Johnny the first mate, Simon the bosun photographer, Nat, and I took the orange zodiac for a spin so Nat could paddle out beneath huge walls of ornately patterned granite, treasure-trove caverns and circling seabirds.
In this moment we felt the sheer beauty of the land with her enfolded feminine forms and curving terrestrial lines rising out of the life-giving ocean.
It was a stirring sight to see a lone, young woman on her surfboard out in the deep. She was vulnerable and determined and flying the banner for Pilot whales as the marine Icon of the Faroes Islands.
Across the way the famous “Troll’s finger” pointed straight at the sky. Probably where the Faroese have decided Heaven must be.
It sure isn’t here in the bays or the shores where the Pilot whale families are murdered in a barbaric baptism of bloodletting.
It sure isn’t here in the sea where their pretty heads rot amongst broken bones and gristle, their elegant tuxedoes bleached as white as the window frames of the pretty chalets, as white as a newly pressed shirt for church, as white as the pages of a tourist brochure.
If the Faroese have made a pact with the Devil to destroy the Angels of the Sea and have dispensed with Heaven on Earth, then it is Denmark and the European Union that need to deal with these recalcitrant wannabe Vikings, and bring them to the modern world.
Denmark would defend her Little Mermaid in Copenhagen as rigorously as any oilfield in the North Sea, so why not the little mermaids of the Faroe Islands.
In an era where cetaceans are finally being recognized and celebrated all around the world for the great nation they truly are, it would be entirely appropriate, even if belatedly, for the European Union to formally declare Faroe Island Pilot whales to be guarded, international living treasures..
Surfers, divers, sailors around the world, need to do whatever we can to defend the whales and dolphins in this one big shared ocean, anytime, anywhere, including being an unequivocal unified voice in support of cetaceans to the surf media, and to the world media outside the International Whaling Commission each year.
We came to help the Pilot whales. We never saw even one. Not alive anyway.
We never heard them singing sweetly, holding their children close in deep blue light.
We just heard lonely church bells ringing out sadly across the still silent water.
– Howie Cooke, Co-Director of Surfers for Cetaceans, somewhere in the North Sea
For more information, check out: