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Culture and Conservation: A Comparative Study of Artisanal Whaling in the Faroe Islands and the Caribbean


Russell Fielding

Lousiana State University


Stuðul úr Granskingargrunninum:
140.800 kr.

This project is a comparative geographical study of the cultures and conservation strategies of the two remaining major cetacean-hunting societies in the Atlantic: the Faroe Islands and St. Vincent and the Grenadines. Within the field of geography, human effort to produce food has traditionally been a major focus of academic research. However, most geographical research has focused upon agriculture as the major human initiative toward food-production. Less understood by geographers are those societies whose native soils are too rocky, too steep, placed within too extreme a climate, or simply of too small an area to support sufficient cropland. These societies are predominately found on the small islands and archipelagic nations of the world. They often turn to the sea for the sustenance that their land is unable to provide. Such isthe case with the two research areas in this project. While ‘turning to the sea’ ordinarily indicates the development of fisheries (and more increasingly in recent literature,aquaculture) there is nothing inherent that excludes the taking of marine mammals for food, either primarily or as a supplement to fishing. Many cultures, both traditional and modern, have deeply-seated taboos against the killing and eating of marine mammals. The emotional arguments made by anti-whaling organizations gives evidence of their platforms’ cultural appeal. However, the Faroese and the Vincentians have long traditions of hunting marine mammals—specifically the pilot whale (Globicephala spp.) and other small cetaceans—for food for human consumption. In both cases, subsistence is the priority. Neither hunt can be called commercial in the sense that it is conducted for international export, though in each case the products derived from the hunt fill an important niche in the local economy. - The presence of, and reliance upon, a marine mammal hunt as an important method of food production requires the integration of conservation measures either into the culture of the people or the law of the land. Often legalized conservation measures find their roots in the traditional practices of the local culture. The purpose of this research project is to elucidate and compare the culturally derived conservation strategies at work in both the Faroese and Vincentian contexts while looking at the broader picture of human/environmental interactions. By doing so, this research will shed light on local management and use of wildlife, the interactions between culture and the environment, and the international politics andcontroversy involved in local food production. This project takes into account the international discourses regarding the use and protection of marine mammals, the physical and historical settings of both cultures, the most recent research into marine contaminants and biology, and the extensive work conducted by ethnographers, anthropologists, and cultural geographers in both the study locations and other places where small cetacean hunts have existed but are now ceased. The ultimate goal isto understand the cultures and conservation strategies that have arisen and endured around the small cetacean hunting societies in the Atlantic.


Whalers from the Caribbean island of St. Vincent and the North Atlantic archipelago of the Faroe Island hunt pilot whales and a variety of other small cetaceans for food. Vincentian whalers use harpoons, thrown by hand or fired from a modified shotgun mounted on the boat. Faorese whalers, using several dozen boats, work cooperatively to drive an entire pod of whales ashore, where shore based whalers are waiting to complete the kill with traditional whaling knives. Vincentian whaling traces its origins to the late nineteenth century. Records of Faroese whaling date to the late sixteenth century but the practice is thought to be much older, originating perhaps as early as the tenth century. The annual average take of all cetaceans is 305 in St. Vincent and 1,358 in the Faroe Islands. Whaling is both culturally and practically significant in both locations, providing not only a connection to history, but a source of food as well. However, the continuation of both operations may be threatened by the presence of methyl mercury and other environmental pollutants in the tissues of the whales, which have been shown to have negative effects on human health. Additionally, both societies have had to negotiate the effort of anti whaling organizations, who employ methods such as protest, boycotts, and interventionary attempts to disrupt whaling activities. While the majority of whaling operations throughout the world have ceased completely, owning to a severe decline in whale populations, the Vincentians and the Faroese have in place certain traditional conservation strategies to avoid overexploitation of the resource. Both societies place geographical limits upon the space in wich whaling is allowed. The Faroese have codified certain traditional conservation practices into their legal codes including the power of whaling authorities to forbid whale drives to occur if conditions are not favorable or if the food that would result is not needed. Additionally, whaling in the Faroe Island is conducted communally and the commercialization of whaling is forbidden. Vincentian whalers have cautiously engaged available technological advances, adopting certain technologies to aid their efforts but declining to adopt technologies that might lead to overexploitation of the resource.

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