The North Atlantic Marine Mammal Commission


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Long-finned pilot whales inhabit the waters of the four NAMMCO member countries: Faroe Islands, Greenland, Iceland and Norway.



The long finned pilot whale is not protected in Iceland, but pilot whales are not hunted there. However, mass strandings happen from time to time (see under Mass strandings).


Pilot whales are protected in Norway, both in Svalbard and on mainland Norway.


Pilot whales are taken in southwest Greenland on an opportunistic basis (a few hundreds a year, see under Recent harvests). There are no quotas for pilot whales in Greenland, however there are regulations pertaining to hunting methods and equipment.

Faroe Islands

Regulation of the Faroese pilot whale hunt is based on old Norse laws, and is regulated by government order which deals in detail with all aspects of the hunt, including driving procedures, beaching, killing methods and approved equipment, valuation, distribution and beach cleanup. These regulations are subject to regular review and have been updated and revised a number of times in recent years, both to keep them consistent with technological developments and to refine some of the organisational aspects of the drive and the distribution. A recently developed spinal lance has been introduced as mandatory for the killing of pilot whales. The spinal lance has been shown to reduce killing time to 1-2 seconds, while also improving accuracy and safety (Anonym 2013). A blowhole hook has also been developed and from May 2015, only persons having attended a certified course of instructions in the whaling regulations and killing methods will be permitted to kill whales. NAMMCO (2014) has recently published an Instruction Manual on Pilot Whaling (The manual exists in Faroese and English).

Only some specific bays, today numbering 23, which meet the requirements for suitable whale beaching conditions, are allowed for the slaughtering of the whales. The hunt is supervised by elected grindforemen, who are themselves under the supervision of the sýslumaður, or district sheriff. The sýslumaður also oversees the valuation and division of the catch, and is responsible for keeping records of the harvest (e.g. Bloch et al. 1990, Bloch 2007, Anonym 2013).

There are no quotas, but certain beaches or entire whaling districts can be closed when harvests are considered sufficient.

The catch is shared freely among those taking part in the drive and the local residents of the whaling bay and district in accordance with a complex, traditional community sharing system. The division of the catch is administered by the relevant sýslumaður. The catch is divided into shares known in Faroese as a skinn, which is a age-old measurement value that derives from agriculture practices. One skinn is roughly equivalent to 34 kilograms of blubber and 38 kilograms of meat. Whales in the cacth are numbered, their condition is assessed and they are valued using a traditional wooden pole calibrated in logarithmic division representing the value in skinn. Their value in skinn is marked in roman numerals on the flipper (e.g. Joensen 1976, Bloch et al. 1990, Bloch 2007).

Levels of PCB’s and mercury are relatively high in the blubber and meat of pilot whales taken in the Faroes (Borrell and Aguilar 1993, Caurant et al. 1993). In some cases, the level of consumption of pilot whale by Faroese may lead to intake of these substances that exceeds recommended levels. This is of particular concern given the documented neurotoxicity of methylmercury, in particularly to the developing foetus (Weihe et al. 1996; for more details see under Contaminants). Consequently, since 1998 the Faroese health authorities have been provided regular recommendations for the consumption of pilot whale meat and blubber, in response to most current research and based on the latest internationally applied standards for precautionary limits, the latest one in June 2011.

You can find more information on the Faroese pilot whaling here, as well as accessing the last executive order on the pilot whale drive (July 2013) in English translation.


PJean drive rowing boat PatrickJEAN 10

Drive in Hvannesund, where the traditional rowing boats are still used. Photo: P. Jean.

FMNH Drive Torshavn DSC08566

Drive in Tórshavn. Photo: Faroese Museum of Natural History.

BRemmel PW measurement enfants

Valuation of the whale with the traditional rod. Photo: B. Remmel. 

IMG 1979

The skin value of the whale is written on the flipper with roman numerals, while the number of the whale is written on the head/jaw with arabic numbers. The whale in the foreground has been valued at 6 skins, the second whale is whlae number 5. Photo: Faroese Museum of Natural History.

FMNH Syslumadur meat distribution IMG 2112

Announcement of the shares by the sýslumaður.
Photo: Faroese Museum of Natural History.

FMNH butchering IMG 2724

Butchering of the whales. The blubber is placed skin down on the ground and receives the pieces of meat. Photo: Faroese Museum of Natural History.