Putting a halt to 'The Grind': New Whale Wars series fights an old tradition
By: Noelle Paredes Plaza
May, 2, 2012

"I don't mind being public enemy number one," says Paul Watson, the controversial captain and leader of the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, a group dedicated to patrolling the world's oceans and crusading against the killing of whales, seals and overfishing.

"Somebody's got to stand up and defend these creatures," the veteran activist tells AnimalPlanet.ca.

This time, Watson and his international crew of volunteers are defending the North Atlantic pilot whale. In its latest campaign, chronicled in the new TV series, Whale Wars: Viking Shores, the Sea Shepherd heads to the Faroe Islands - a self-governed Danish Territory - to try to halt "the Grind", an ancient and annual tradition of slaughtering pilot whales for their meat.

While the Faroese no longer need to depend on whale meat as their main food source, the practice of herding whales into shallow shores to be killed is still deeply embedded in the culture.

"The Faroe Islands are like many island societies: very insular, very conservative. They like to hold on to these traditional values," explains Watson. "That's all well and good and we have nothing against traditional values as long as it doesn't involve cruelly slaughtering defenseless animals."

The five-part series examines the controversial ritual and viewers are given a glimpse into the Faroese way of life and why the Grind, also locally known as the "grindadrĂ¡p", is fiercely protected.

"There's a big difference in this series and our campaign against Japanese whaling because the Japanese will not participate. So we never really see their side and that's their choice," says Watson, who welcomes the Faroese willingness to voice their opinions on the show.

"We've always wanted the opportunity for the other side to have their say and, you know, the Japanese refuse but the Faroese are given the chance to do that."

Deckhand Alexis Lum knows full well the expressed opinions of the Faroese. As the first person to step off the Brigitte Bardot, the only Sea Shepherd vessel entering the Faroes, he encountered instant hostility.

"We were approached by two to three hundred angry fishermen who were showing us the finger, giving us the Christian cross, giving us the slitting our throat signs," Lum recalls. "It could've been a very dangerous situation as well. We didn't know what to expect from them."

A teacher at an independent school in British Columbia, Lum feels passionate about educating his students on the marine conservation movement.

"As a teacher we do have an extra responsibility to explain to our students what's happening to our oceans... and to spread the awareness," he tells AnimalPlanet.ca

The Sea Shepherd has been actively campaigning in the Faroe Islands since 1983. Despite the continued struggle to change entrenched traditions, Watson appears optimistic.

The international spotlight, along with rising health concerns among the Faroese about the consumption of mercury-contaminated whale meat, is helping change attitudes in the territory.

"We actually are making a difference. There's a lot of people in the Faroes who are now opposed to the killing of the whales."
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