Faroe Island Dolphin massacre shows failure of current laws

Horror. Revulsion. Shock. Anger. All these emotions went through me when I heard the gruesome news that 1,428 white-sided dolphins were murdered in a senseless bloodbath in the Faroe Islands.

Allegedly an ‘annual cultural ritual’, this appears to be little more than men getting mindless kicks out of killing innocent, defenceless animals in the name of ‘proving that you are a man’. It is beyond me how sticking a knife into an animal that has no means to defend itself is in any way ‘manly’. Sickening beyond words is what it is.

Newsweek first reported this tragic event on 14th September. The report included a description of the horror of the massacre from Sea Shepherd volunteer, Samuel Rostøl. Seeing the photos in the online article was enough for me. I could not bring myself to watch the videos that Mr Rostøl courageously filmed to show the world the grim reality of what was happening in the Faroe Islands.

Why does the Right to have Rights Stop at Human Beings?

This event made me wonder why dolphins and whales do not have any legal rights. They exist, just like we do. And yet we do not recognise in law their right to life, their right to thrive in their natural habitat, their right to be left in peace? WDC (Whale & Dolphin Conservation) reports that the Atlantic White-Sided Dolphin is a sociable species, usually found in groups of between 2 – 50 individuals, but also coming together to form large pods of hundreds or even thousands of individuals. They are also sometimes seen in the company of much larger species, such as baleen whales. They are known as ‘co-operative feeders’, meaning that they work together as a group to herd fish into large groupings where they can be picked off more easily.

This photo shows two Atlantic White-Sided Dolphins swimming
Two Atlantic White-Sided Dolphins (Photo by Ross Edmond, Alamy Stock)

Sadly for the dolphins who perished on Sunday 12th September in the Faroe Islands, it was the ability of humans to co-operate that led to the dolphins being herded through the sea for many kilometres into a shallow bay. This was done using a ‘wall of sound’ created by the engines of a line of boats. 1,428 individuals – gregarious, social, family groups of dolphins – totally unable to defend themselves against the attack, were then murdered in cold blood with knives. Their bodies were piled high, awaiting disposal.

It was instructive to read how people commented on the slaughter. Many in the Faroe Islands found the actions of this small group of men abhorrent, excessive. But the comments said that the slaughter was excessive because not all of the flesh from these dead dolphins could be consumed. A lot of it would go to waste. A utilitarian response. I have not read anything suggesting that there was any sense that these poor dolphins had a right to a peaceful existence in their habitat… Is this asking too much?

Rights for all Forms of Life as the Global Norm

The Universal Declaration of the Rights of Mother Earth is a civil society-led initiative that considers that “Mother Earth and all beings are entitled to all the inherent rights recognized in this Declaration without distinction of any kind, such as may be made between organic and inorganic beings, species, origin, use to human beings, or any other status.” If this declaration were law, dolphins, whales and all beings would have rights. These rights would be specific to the needs of their species and appropriate for their role and function within their communities.

Furthermore, the rights of each being under the Declaration are limited by the rights of other beings. Any conflict between their rights would be resolved in a way that maintains the integrity, balance and health of Mother Earth.

So in the case of the white-sided dolphins who inhabit the North Atlantic, their right to life and to exist, their right to be respected and their right to wellbeing and to live free from torture or cruel treatment by human beings would prevail over any assumed human ‘right’ to kill them.

When you think about other species from this perspective, the role and place of humans changes. We are part of an “indivisible, living community of interrelated and interdependent beings with a common destiny” as the Declaration states.

Stopping the Slaughter of Innocents and Making Rights of Nature a Reality

How do we bring this change of worldview into being, legally speaking? Here are two initiatives that you may wish to support.

Rights of Mother Earth has a petition aimed at gathering 1 million signatures by 2022. The petition calls on the UN to adopt a Universal Declaration of the Rights of Mother Earth. This would be an important first step. Ideally nation states would also adopt similar laws, so that the rights would be enforceable at national level.

Meanwhile, as an important immediate step, over 575,000 people have signed Blue Planet Society’s petition to end dolphin and whale hunting in the Faroe Islands and Japan. They aim to collect 1 million signatures before submitting the petition to the Prime Ministers of each country.

If you feel moved by reading this post, please add your name to both petitions and pass them on.