Wick cuts ties to Faroes twin town over whale killing

CIVIC leaders in a Scottish town have sparked fury in the Faroes by cutting all ties with its twin community in a row over the islands’ annual traditional slaughter of whales.
Wick has severed ties with Klaksvik because of the Faroese town's annual tradition of slaughtering whales. Picture: DeadlineWick has severed ties with Klaksvik because of the Faroese town's annual tradition of slaughtering whales. Picture: Deadline
Wick has severed ties with Klaksvik because of the Faroese town's annual tradition of slaughtering whales. Picture: Deadline

Councillors from Wick in Caithness have written to the Mayor of Klaksvik to sever the 20-year twinning agreement, a “friendship alliance” aimed to bolster cultural links and assist business and tourism in each community.

Gail Ross, civic leader of Caithness said: “This is not a decision that has been taken lightly but we feel that the disgusting spectacle of the slaughter of whales on the beaches in the past few weeks is not something that our town should be associated with.”

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But the decision to end the arrangement was met with disdain in the Faroe Islands, with Mayor Jógvan Skorheim leading the vitriolic response which has also seen an angry reaction in Faroe on social media. He said: “We understand [this] as an ultimatum. If you’re asking us to choose between being twinned with Wick and our Faroese right to conduct sustainable whaling, you should know that this choice is not hard for us to make.”

Councillor Ross and her Highland colleagues, Bill Fernie and Neil MacDonald, wrote to the mayor in response to the slaughter of whales and other species during the annual hunt, which has been carried out for centuries and involves islanders herding migrating pilot whales from the sea into shallow water and slaughtering them. The practice is called the “grindadráp” or “grind”.

In particular, the councillors received representations from constituents who feared the slaying last month of 250 pilot whales on the beaches of Bøur and Tórshavn, which was given worldwide publicity, would damage Wick’s tourism and business by being twinned with the Faroese town.

Councillor Ross said: “I am afraid that the whole of the Faroe Islands has been tainted by these events. We do not agree that these events and the apparent joy it gave the townspeople is in any way or should in any way be linked to tradition.

“There may have been reasons of culling for food in the past but in 2015 it is unnecessary and cruel.

“Cetaceans are sentient beings. They have feelings and emotions. To drive them on to a beach and slaughter them in front of their family members is nothing short of barbaric. We do not subscribe to animal cruelty. It saddens me to have to sever links with your beautiful town until such times as we get a full assurance that this atrocity has ceased.”

But Mayor Skorheim, in a terse response, said: “It disappoints me to hear that you don’t support us in our right to conduct whaling, seeing as it is indeed a part of the Faroese culture. We don’t understand the alliance of friendship as if it gives you the right to dictate what we should and should not do in our country.

“Your arguments don’t have much value in our opinion. It is a Faroese tradition. Whaling has been a sustainable resource of food to the Faroese population for centuries. It is a natural part of life in the Faroe Islands, Klaksvik included.”

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He added: “You call the whaling cruel. Faroese law states that the whales are to be killed as quickly as possible to minimise any suffering. Only those who have a legally required authorisation are permitted to kill. The whales in question live a free and natural life until the time of the whale drive.

“This is more that we can say about most animals that end up as meat in supermarkets all over the world. We urge you to improve your knowledge.”