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78 whales killed in front of cruise ship passengers in the Faroe Islands

Cruise ship passengers arrived in the Faroe Islands as dozens of whales were killed as part of a traditional hunt, the cruise line confirmed Thursday. 

Ambassador Cruise Line apologized to the passengers of the ship Ambition. Passengers were there as 78 pilot whales, which are techncally one of the largest members of the dolphin family, were killed in the port area on Sunday.

Hunting whales and dolphins is a common and regulated practice in the islands, which are a self-governing, semi-autonomous region of Denmark. The local government describes the pilot whale hunt, also known as "grind," as "an ancient and integral part of Faroese food culture."

"We strongly object to this outdated practice and have been working with our partner, ORCA, the marine conservation charity dedicated to studying and protecting whales, dolphins and porpoises in UK and European waters, to encourage change since 2021," a spokesperson for the cruise line said.

The killing of more than 1,400 dolphins in the region sparked outrage in 2021. At the time, the chairman of the Faroese Whalers Association told the BBC that while the number of dolphins killed was excessive, it was accidental. 

"It was a big mistake," he told the BBC. "When the pod was found, they estimated it to be only 200 dolphins." 

The Faroese catch an average of 600 pilot whales annually, according to government data. From 2000 to 2020, no more than 773 white-sided dolphins were caught in a single year. 

Fishermen on a boat drive pilot whales towards the shore during a hunt on May 29, 2019 in Torshavn, Faroe Islands. ANDRIJA ILIC/AFP via Getty Images

"Whaling in the Faroe Islands is conducted in accordance with international law and globally recognized principles of sustainable development," according to the island's government website. "It is sustainable and fully regulated, with a strong emphasis on animal welfare, and a requirement today for participants to be licensed to use the mandatory methods and equipment.  Whale drives only take place in bays that are officially approved for the purpose, and only schools of whales found in close proximity to land, usually within one nautical mile, are driven ashore."

Whatever is caught during the hunt is distributed to island residents for free. 

Ambassador Cruise Lne said the company told "guests and crew not to buy or eat any whale or dolphin meat and stand against any profiteering from commercial whaling and dolphin hunts." 

Conservationists from ORCA were on board the shp as it arrived in the Faroe Islands. According to the organization, small boats and jet skies were used to herd the pilot whales into shallow waters. The whales were hauled ashore and killed.

"It defies belief that the Faroese authorities allowed this activity to take place in clear sight of a cruise ship packed with passengers sitting in dock," ORCA CEO Sally Hamilton said. "On one hand, they promote their pristine environment and spectacular wildlife while simultaneously wielding gaff hooks and lances to kill whales and dolphins. It's almost as if they are flaunting the hunt and taunting the tourists."

Long-finned pilot whales live 35-60 years, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. They grow to be 19-25 feet long and weigh 2,900 to 5,000 pounds. The species is threatened by whaling, entanglement in fishing gear, disease and contaminants in ocean waters, NOAA says.

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