Exactly two weeks ago, 250 whales were driven onto the beach of a tiny whaling nation in the North Atlantic and butchered, dyeing the entire cove bright red with blood. Now, a group of activists is facing jail time for trying to save them.
The five protesters who were arrested for protesting the hunting of pilot whales in the Faroe Islands, a cluster located near the Norwegian Sea, were found guilty on Friday. They are all members of the wildlife non-profit group Sea Shepherd Conservation Society.
Rosie Kunneke, Marianna Baldo, Kevin Schiltz, Christophe Bondue and Xavier Figarella were charged with both public disturbance and breaking the "grind law," also called the Faroese Pilot Whaling Act, a measure that bars anyone from interfering with the hunt. The volunteers, who hail from South Africa, Italy, Luxembourg, Belgium and France, face a range of penalties with fines up to $11,000 or up to 14 days in jail. Sea Shepherd says it plans to appeal all the sentences. Two other activists arrested in the Faroes are still awaiting their day in court.
Activists like the ones recently arrested have been staking out the Faroe Islands recently, hoping to prevent the grind from starting. Using their own boats, the volunteers try to head off pods of whales and dolphins that are being driving towards shore, snapping photos and recording video as they do so. Despite their efforts, several hunts have been held this year, at one point even occurring twice in one day.
The news is the latest development in a battle that's been brewing for years over whaling in the Faroe Islands, a small country within the Danish kingdom. Supporting a population of 50,000, the Faroe Islands hosts the yearly grindadráp, or grind (pronounced like "grinned"), in which pilot whales and other marine mammals are driven into shore and killed with knives.
According to the Faroese, whaling has been going on in the country for over 1,000 years. Officials argue that the hunt is a tradition and a sustainable food source, despite warnings that the meat is unfit for human consumption because of toxic levels of mercury.
Meanwhile, an army of irate activists says that the hunts are cruel, and that whaling is antiquated in the modern world. Most whaling was banned by an international moratorium put in place in 1986, but small whales, dolphins and porpoises aren't covered under the ban.
Sea Shepherd is also waging a war online. Its armies of Facebook (834,000 followers) and Twitter (220k followers) fans are notoriously vocal, and can be mobilized almost instantly. Recently, the group has been promoting a campaign to pressure the Danish Prime Minister Lars Løkke Rasmussen to intervene, using the tag #StandUp250, which even actor Leonardo DiCaprio shared with his 1 million followers.
There's no "season" for whaling in the Faroe Islands — the hunt happens whenever a pod is spotted and corralled. So while activists and Faroese continue to fight it out in court, for passing whales the threat of another grind looms.