It’s about the time of year when hunters on Faroe Island, an archipelago in the North Atlantic, are gearing up for the annual whale drive, when several hundred pilots whales are slaughtered for their meat and blubber as part of a 1,000-year-old tradition.
Haunting images of local residents slashing whales, turning the water red with blood, have fuelled protests from environmental activists who say the hunt is cruel.
Islanders fight to preserve their tradition of killing pilot whales, which sustains a key part of their diet.
The Faroe Islands are located in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, about halfway between Scotland and Iceland. It consists of 18 islands — 17 that are inhabited by around 48,000 people.
The islands are largely self-sufficient. The Faroese economy is supported by local agriculture and hunting. Pilot whales, in particular, are a valued part of the national diet and have long been killed for their meat and blubber.
There are at least 750,000 pilot whales in the North Atlantic, so the yearly mass slaughters do not threaten the animal's population. But animal activists say the practice is cruel and outdated.
Whales and dolphins are highly intelligent, social creatures that live in family groups, which is why people are more sensitive about the care of these marine mammals.
The Faroese defend the annual whale hunt as part of their culture and tradition. The massacres continue since the country controls the conservation and management of fish and whale stocks within a 200-mile fisheries zone as a self-governing nation within the Kingdom of Denmark.
The trapping, killing, and butchering of of pilot whales is only authorised if whales are spotted close to land.
The spinal cord is severed using a special whaling knife. This cuts the main blood supply to the brain.
The whale meat cannot be sold commercially, although some of it may wind up in local food stores or restaurants. The animals are lined up and butchered.
Whale meat can be prepared many different ways. Some may preserve it in salt to save for the winter. Others may cut it into strips and hang is outside to dry for a few weeks. Here is a traditional meal in which the dried meat (black) has been boiled and served with blubber (middle) and potatoes.
More recently, there has some concern about the high levels of mercury and other toxins found in pilot whale meat. In 2011, the country's chief medical officers recommended that islanders only eat one meat of whale meat and blubber per month. Pregnant women should not eat any meat or blubber.
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