Faroese whaling in the age of environmentalism

Activity: Talk or presentationOral presentation


The presentation discusses dynamics of culture, identity and environmentalism in relation to the deep-rooted practice of Faroese pilot whaling. This communal practice, locally known as grindadráp, involves no monetary transactions and may be seen as a lived reminder of a "pre-modern" context of production/consumption. However, since the mid-1980s the grindadráp has been targeted by animal rights and conservation organizations who share compelling images of whales being slaughtered on Faroese beaches by crowds of men with long knives, as the sea turns red from the bleeding animals. These anti-whaling campaigns portray the spectacle of grindadráp as an outdated tradition, barbaric, brutal, unnecessary, and sadistic. Although not yet very successful in prohibiting or preventing whale killings from taking place, the campaigns have been relatively successful in promoting a negative image of Faroese society and continue to provoke global outcry. In addition to anti-whaling campaigns, another force challenging the continuation of the practice is the high level of mercury contamination in whale meat and blubber stemming from ocean pollution. Although this has led Faroese health authorities to deem pilot whale unfit for human consumption, many Faroese people continue to eat whale. This contribution contemplates an interpretation of Faroese resistance to abandon the practice as a form of resistance to the "decontextualizing" tendencies of modernity and capitalism. It is a paradox that while the image of the whale and the mission of "saving the whales" have long been emblems of the global environmental movement, Faroese people generally consider the killing and eating of whales to be an environmentally virtuous practice. Moreover, it is curious that in the discursive struggle to legitimize grindadráp as a sustainable and eco-friendly practice, Faroese people are simultaneously deconstructing central tenets of the global food system and comparing grindadráp favorably with the socio-environmental injustices and cruelties of industrial food procurement.
Period16 Aug 2022
Event titleFrændafundur
Event typeConference
Conference number11
LocationReykjavík, IcelandShow on map


  • Whaling
  • Environmentalism
  • Faroe Islands
  • Sustainability
  • Degrowth
  • Food Culture