Chapter 12: The Dolphin Killers

1996 - 1997

When whales and dolphins cry for their dead, the oceans are filled with tears


The Faroe Isles

Slaughtered dolphins. Nothing is spared, not even neonates (babies)
Nothing is spared, not even neonates (babies)
Photo credit Hashman.

Mention the names Japan or the Faroe Isles and utter horror and disgust will appear on the face of those of us who love dolphins. These countries allow such savagery to be inflicted on cetaceans, that words are hard to find. I once called the Faroese "the islanders from hell" and that is about as good as a description as any. Terrorists is a buzz word these days and seems appropriate to describe dolphin killers too;

Terrorist definition

  1. a person, usually a member of a group, who uses or advocates terrorism.
  2. a person who terrorises or frightens others

The Isles lie midway between the UK and Iceland, about 200miles from the UK shores. Once ruled by Denmark, they have home rule, but still under Danish protectorate in international matters. The Isles have a population of less than 50000 on eighteen islands. They have been driving cetaceans since the 16th century and at one time this may have been necessary for subsistence. One argument their government uses is that the meat is still an important part of the diet and reduces the need for import.

However in the 21st century they have a high standard of living with all the consumer goods of the west. Yet they still butcher hundreds and sometimes thousands of cetaceans every year. The numbers fluctuate, as the drive is opportunistic. If pilot whales or dolphins are unlucky enough to be sited off shore, within a distance of three miles, the calls will go out for boats to herd and drive the animals towards shore and designated killing bays. Once the whales are in shallow water, the killing begins. Traditionally a 5lb hook attached to a haul line is stabbed into the animal, which is then hauled ashore. A knife is then used to severe the spinal column. The drives take hours, whole pods are butchered, none are spared the grind or drive. In recent years, to offset international condemnation, the traditional gaff has reportedly been replaced by a gaff with a rounded end which is placed (gently of course) into the animal's blowhole and then it is still dragged ashore for it's last breath.

A foreman directs the killing and takes around 20% of the meat for his part in the terrorism. As some of this is found on the shelves of supermarkets in Torshavn, it tells that part of the reason for the drives continuing is commerce. I believe the other reason is it is just pure blood-lust on the part of the male gender, as in other 'sports' in the UK such as fox-hunting and stag hunting.

Demonising the prey is useful for an attitude of killing, like foxes are killing 'our' lambs or raping our women or the whales are eating all 'our' fish. Some years ago a Norwegian minister, referring to minke whales, called them 'rats of the sea'. Despite conventions like the Berne or Bonn conventions, which are suppose to protect migrating wildlife in European countries and waters (pilots may be headed towards the Scottish Isles), the Faroese kill with impunity, the snag is that Denmark hasn't signed the conventions. Other, bigger, whales which are protected under international laws which do not apply to the smaller whales or dolphins. Over the years various groups have been to the Isles to try direct action or documentation: Sea Shepherd, Environmental Investigation Agency and the British Divers For Marine life Rescue. The Islanders aren't renowned for Ghandism, so when anybody tries to stop their enjoyment, drunken assaults have taken place. Following a visit by EIA in 1992 a very powerful film was shot of a drive. They and other groups launched a boycott of Faroese fish. The Faroese export worldwide to a tune of around £250,000,000 and some of the fish finds its way to the UK. Apart from the fresh fish which is harder to trace, Marks and Spencer, Sainsburys, Somerfield, Tesco, Asda, Safeway and the Co-op were selling packets of produce from the Isles. They were inundated with letters and cards of protest and to their credit Asda, Safeway and the Co-op withdrew their sales. The only concession the other stores did was to label it "to give consumers the choice".

Cetacea Defence played a supportive role in the EIA led campaign. With Einar Kismul, an activist from Wigan, and friends we staged street theatre in front of stores, in a dolphin costume and with a gaff (metal hook). We blocked check-outs with unwanted packets of fish. We did hundreds of information stalls outside the stores in various towns. The International Whaling Commission of 1996 was held in Aberdeen. Einar and I attended outside with our banners. On one of the days we took the opportunity to pay a visit to The Faroe Consulate in Aberdeen and occupy their office, in dolphin attire and with gaff as a protest. Greenpeace had supporters at the IWC, apparently they had been briefed not to talk to us, as we didn't wear the requisite Greenpeace t-shirt. Even worse than that, invited by Ben White to what we thought was an NGO meeting (it turned out to be evening dress cocktail party for the official whaling delegates, in an attempt to influence votes for the antis) we were refused entry by another NGO and then roughly manhandled by the police on guard at the exit door. Funny, you could have cried with laughter, at the thought of the big NGOs spending member’s money on entertaining whalers.

Despite a loss of around £12,000,000 sales, the boycott never did bring the Islanders to their knees as had been forecast. This proves how difficult boycotts are to achieve, even against a small group of Islands. In the end the boycott fizzled out.

In 1997, I was aware that it was five years since anybody had got any film of the kills out from the Isles. Joe Hashman was a wildlife investigator as well as an excellent hunt saboteur. In fact, so good was he at this and the use of a hunting horn to lure the hounds away from the prey and their masters, he received serious death threats. He switched to videoing the hunts. Being as thick as short planks, they seemed to accept this, but in fact it was just as, if not more, effective than the horn he had once used. On one hunt in the New Forest, he shot film of hounds ripping apart a terrified stag which was illegal and against hunt practises. What is supposed to happen is that a huntsman should shoot the animal before the hounds can kill it alive. Joe seemed the ideal man for an assignment in the Faroes. I asked him to go in September. I knew that was when there were records showing "assisted" strandings of the internationally protected bottlenose whale. If we believe the Faroe Islanders, these are animals which are going to strand and they "assist" them to the beach to do so. If Joe could film this "assist" it would be powerful evidence of Faroese cruelty. Plenty of film of pilot whales being butchered was available, but nothing in regard to bottlenose whales existed. Sat in a car above a bay in driving rain, trying to be as discreet as possible, Joe shot a grainy film of a small group of pilot whales, escaping from a drive. On his film a spear was thrown (this had been outlawed by their own laws, in the 1980s). Boats and zodiacs were shown almost certainly hitting the poor stressed animals with propeller blades. Joe also shot some film and stills from a hidden pocket in his jacket of over 150 pilots dead pilots from another drive on the quayside. It was a tough assignment for Joe, yet he got film, film that I couldn't really have expected from one person. He was probably the first 'one-man' team to have achieved this. Not long after his return we had a meeting with the Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society (WDCS) to liaise on how we could maximise Joe's effort. I managed to sell two minutes of the film he shot for Cetacea Defence to a German television company. WDCS asked him to go over the following year on their behalf, yet ironically, on a bigger budget, he couldn't repeat his effort and missed drives. I think the only thing that will stop the 'terrorists' killing cetaceans are themselves. When their young people travel the world and return and say that they now no longer need to do this, or when the Islanders start to take seriously the warning their own government gives on the danger of eating meat laced with the deadly cocktails of chemicals now found in the food chain of life in the oceans.

Disruption of a  visiting youth jazz band from the Faroe Isles
Disruption of a visiting youth jazz band from the Faroe Isles in Wigan 1996.
I was unsure about doing this but when the leader of the band said the pilot whale slaughter was okay, I thought you are fair game then.

Faroe Pilot whale slaughter
Faroe Pilot Whale slaughter

Grimsby demo, Faroe Sea Food company factory roof
Grimsby demo, Faroe Sea Food company factory roof

The whalers' account of Einar and me occupying the consulate during the IWC meeting in Aberdeen in 1996.- full text follows
The whalers' account of Einar and me occupying the consulate during the IWC meeting in Aberdeen in 1996.

Sweaty dolphin on a failed mission for Sea Shepherd

The secretary at the office of the Faroese Commercial Attaché in Aberdeen, Trish Winstanley, an elderly British lady, suppressed her surprise and kept her cool when a man in a dolphin suit, alias Einar Kismul and a dolphin killer with a hatchet, alias Alan Cooper, visited her office yesterday representing the organisation Sea Shepherd. They asked to see the attaché, Sofus Poulsen, and declared that they had just occupied the office.

a cup of tea

Mr Poulsen was in the meantime attending the IWC meeting, from where the dolphin and his killer just had come to find him. Mrs. Winstanley told them to sit down and wait and gave them a cup of tea.

The dolphin suit was very hot and after 15 minutes the dolphin started to get impatient and began to wander up and down looking out the windows, disturbing Mrs Winstanley's work. She told the dolphin and his killer to leave and take the hatchet with them. They then went outside to wait for the attaché Sofus Poulsen at the front door. Five minutes later BBC Radio Scotland called, responding to a Sea Shepherd press release, and asked to speak to the demonstrators occupying the office. Mrs Winstanlev told them they had gone.

The Harpoon has to admit that we have this story third-hand, hut we hope this has not brought [illegible text] really happened. If so we would ask he dolphin and his killer to call us on 01224827674. Anyone well else with a good story might like to dial the same number.

Sheepish shepherd

Shark Fishing protest in Looe, Cornwall
Shark Fishing protest in Looe, Cornwall. It wasn't all dolphins!
I was a bit apprehensive when the boat headed straight at us as we blocked the harbour entrance, mainly because I was such a poor canoeist!


dolphin slaughter
Photo credit Sakae Fujiwara, Elsa Nature Conservancy

A dolphin is selected and saved from slaughter and sold to the slaughter of dolphinaia
A dolphin is selected for sale to the dolphinaria industry
Photo credit Sakae Fujiwara, Elsa Nature Conservancy

The one fact that separates the brutality of Japan and the Faroe Isles is the reason for the kills. The government of Japan allows the killing of dolphins. Their fisheries agency issues catch-quotas to the fishing co-operatives and the governor of the prefecture (region) gives fishermen permission to carry out the drive fishery. There are three inshore places, Taiji, Iki Island and Futo where thousands of dolphins are slaughtered in what are termed fishery drives. Further out to sea more are killed by hand held harpoons The name drive fishery, derives from the fact that dolphins have been traditionally viewed as fish in Japan, not mammals. A cruel fate awaits a pod of dolphins should they be unlucky enough to be sighted by the killers. Metal pipes are banged underwater to disorientate the pod and they become trapped by boats and a net and are herded into shallow waters. Most of the dolphins are processed into meat. A few dolphins are selected and kept alive and sold to dolphinariums; they number nearly fifty in Japan. The money obtained by the fishermen from the sales is lucrative, worth tens of thousands of pounds, and the reason why the capture and killing continues.

It is said that the majority of Japanese nationals don't know about the drives. Certainly the killers now go to great lengths to hide their activities from the outside world.

In the last few years Ric and Helene O' Barry have been over to the 'killing fields' documenting evidence of the drives.

"I tried to talk to the fishermen about this pod of whales on my last day in Taiji. I tried to explain that there were babies trapped in the nets, hoping this would make a difference. The fishermen just looked at me and laughed. We have a long way to go to put a stop to these cruel killings", Ric O'Barry.

What is clear to me is everyone who pays to go into a captive dolphin show is helping this cruelty to continue. It seems that only a change of mind in the perpetrator , one that would be a massive mind shift towards enlightenment, can stop this slaughter, similar to the one former fishermen and killer Izumi Ishii had. He said,

"When I am going to kill dolphins, they shed tears and close their eyes. How is it possible for me to kill animals that shed tears and close their eyes at the moment they are killed".

"The value I now see in dolphins is not the value of their meat, but of the wonder they incite in us".

In the early 2000s I offered to go with Ric O'Barry to try and help document the killing but he declined my offer. What I did do though were regular pickets at the Japanese embassy in London. When I was there they used to send an official out to see what I was up to and then the police came. One time a policeman asked me to inform them in advance of my visit because he said the staff in the embassy hit the panic button and the police sped through London only to find one man, a banner and an information table there! On my information stalls I collected thousands of petition signatures and sent them to Sakae Fujiwara to use with the authorities in Japan. I also produced colour postcards and gave them out to people visiting my information stalls, asking them to send them direct to the drive fisheries in Japan. I hoped that when they received a flow of cards from abroad it might have an impact on their mindset. It was only a drop in the ocean but still a drop.

I can only end by writing similar words to those of O'Barry, that there is a long long way to go in a mind shift before the killing ends, not just with brutal fishermen in Japan but with those who would terrorise whale and dolphin elsewhere.