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Haunting Images of an Annual Whale Kill in the Faroe Islands

Benjamin_Rasmussen_Photography

The Faroese Whale Kill, a powerful collection of images by Denver-based photographer Benjamin Rasmussen explores the 400-year-old tradition of pilot whale killing in the Faroe Islands, a protectorate of Denmark. Tradition for tradition’s sake is, in the words of Rasmussen, “not a very compelling reason to continue it, but at the same time, pilot whales are not an endangered species and the small amount killed by the Faroese has no discernable impact on the population. It is an incredibly bloody and horrific spectacle, but so are the factory farms and slaughterhouses that raise American beef, pork and poultry. It is just that those abattoirs exist behind closed doors.”

Rasmussen’s images are as rich in reds as the dark sea is dense. The connection between human and animal feels stronger here, and the sea has a palpable life under it—its force tying Rasmussen’s lineage and this act together, as part of the same life source. We spoke in greater detail with Rasmussen about this complex event.

Benjamin_Rasmussen_Photography

Benjamin_Rasmussen_Photography

This practice indeed seems controversial, if not a bit ‘outdated’ in some ways, much like bull fighting in other parts of the world. Who usually participates in this killing and what is the given purpose of the event?
“The Faroe Islands is home to 48,000 inhabitants and traditional pilot whale killing still takes place there. Though it is very controversial internationally, the practice is valued and closely protected by the Faroese. Entire communities take part in the whale kill, known as “grindadráp,” and the meat and blubber is divided up equally between everyone in the village. Practiced in the Faroe Islands for centuries, records for the hunts go back to the late 1500s. The meat and blubber was once an integral part of people’s diets, but today it just supplements a much more standard European diet.

“The hunt begins when a pod of whales are spotted close to the islands. The community jumps into action and boats line up to block the whale’s path to the open ocean. Then they start hitting metal and wood against the boat hulls to herd the pod towards a predetermined and approved beach. Once the whales are brought to shallow water, they are hooked and pulled in. Then someone takes a special knife and cuts the whale’s spinal cord at the base of the brain, killing it instantly. After the whales are killed, the meat and blubber are divided up between those who took part in the hunt, with additional shares going to the needy in the community. No part of the whale is sold.”

Benjamin_Rasmussen_Photography

Benjamin_Rasmussen_Photography

You spent over a year in the North Atlantic. How was that experience? Did it shape you artistically?
“My father is from the Faroe Islands and I spent a few summers there as a kid and have lived there more extensively as an adult. I moved there for a year after finishing college and it is the first place where I worked as a photographer. Unfortunately I was immature photographically and did not produce any good work while living there, but my time there opened up doors that brought me back time and time again.

“And most importantly, that year introduced me to Faroese art. Faroese art, especially the Impressionist artists of the mid-20th century like Sámuel Joensen-Mikines and Frida Zachariassen, has had a massive influence on my aesthetic growth. This project is itself homage to Mikines’ paintings of whale kills and funerals from the 1930s and 40s.”

Benjamin_Rasmussen_Photography

The stance feels very neutral, which is often a challenge in the contemporary photojournalism landscape. Tell us more about the experience.
“I had seen whale kills when I was young and ate whale meat and blubber throughout my childhood, but experiencing it as an adult and as a photographer was different. There was so much blood that it was difficult to not fall into the trap of making one-dimensional, thoughtless and gory pictures. But I wanted the images to represent the experience and not just some gruesome cliché. This project is not groundbreaking, but for me it was successful because many Faroese embraced it as a true representation of their experiences.

“One of the most compelling reasons for the practice to end is the increasing amount of mercury in whales due to the increasingly polluted oceans. In 2008, the Faroese chief medical officers declared it unsafe for consumption. This, combined with younger generations not liking the taste of the meat and blubber as much, will most likely spell the end for the practice.”

Benjamin_Rasmussen_Photography

This post was contributed by photographer Sahara Borja.

  • Michele Hodge

    This grind is barbaric and cruel, it must end now, the meat is toxic and its unsafe to eat so why kill them ? Go and eat something else !!!

  • Michaela Stoff

    Its an barbaric massmurder and that whale killers are mass murderer!!!! and they are liars: “No part of the whale is sold.” Thats a big lie!!! They are not allowed to sell it, but they do it in Restaurants and also on ferries to Europe. I was there this year and I saw the cards in restaurants and I saw the whalemeat on the ferry!!!!! This barbaric, senseless tradition has to stop!!!! NOW!!!!!

  • AnnMarie

    Yes, it’s easy to disagree. However I’d say that their habits are more natural than ours.

    Have you seen how much blood there is in beef slaughter house ??

  • Sverri Müller-Johannesen

    Face it, Pilotwhale is food!! Like pigs, cows, chicken, horses, duck, fish and so on.
    Pilot whale comes to Faroe Islands by it self. CO2 neutral food. No Big farm to feed Them up, no Big slaughter house to do the killing, no Big shops to sell it. The whales have been free all there lives!

    Faroe Islands is a small Place, they cant produce the food products Them selfes. That have to transport what the need in Big ships from Denmark, Britain, Norway.
    Pilot whales are one thing they have to live off.

    People in US and other part off the World should mind there own business, and let the faroese People live and Hunt there own food, and bor force Them to by food from EU(that by the Way wont by faroese fish)

    -Sverri(sorry for the misspellings, me and my IPhone is rusty at writing english;)

  • http://ziemowitmaj.com/ Ziem Maj

    I’m sorry, but look inside your fridge and closet and check for meat and leather before commenting here. Otherwise it’s plain hypocrisy.

  • http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=W_3r56w718M Craig Allen

    Make no mistake ..it actually is an addictive sport. No longer a necessity for primitive needs, this has become a modern thrill of enjoying a ritualistic mass slaughtering of huge benevolent beings by chasing, gaffing, and slicing throats among fellow hunters sharing the day long adrenaline rush. The ancient survival practice has been reduced to little more than an exciting, addictive bloodsport evidenced by their refusal to quit though it’s not subsistence and many there disapprove.
    Here’s a link to a good read on their demented reality http://www.earthraceconservation.org/blog/grinding-halt?