A Glimmer of Hope

By Helene Hesselager O’Barry
Program Associate
Dolphin Project

We are in the Faroe Islands by formal invitation of the Faroese Students’ Union (MFS) that has offices in Scotland, Denmark and the Faroe Islands. Today, MFS is holding a convention in Torshavn — the capital of the Faroe Islands — covering various dolphin-related topics, one of them being the contamination of our oceans. The invitation represents a unique opportunity to reach the Faroese people about the mercury-contamination of pilot whales. 

After all, it has been four years since the Faroese health authorities warned against consumption of pilot whale:  In 2008, Chief Physician Pál Weihe and Chief Medical Officer Høgni Debes Joensen warned that pilot whales are contaminated with dangerously high levels of mercury and other toxins. The toxins build up in marine species as they go up the food chain.  Top predators such as pilot whales eat and store more pollutants than other species. 

The toxins found in their meat and blubber have been linked to increased incidents of Parkinson’s disease in adults, damage to fetal neural development, and impaired immunity in children.  Weihe and Joensen warned: “(P)ilot whales today contain contaminants to a degree that neither meat nor blubber would comply with current limits for acceptable concentrations of toxic contaminants.”  They recommend that pilot whale should no longer be used for human consumption.  Despite the threat to human health, Faroese people still hunt and kill pilot whales in large numbers. 

At the MFS convention, Ric showed a compelling video documentation about the worldwide problem of mercury-contamination of our oceans and talked about its devastating impact on human health. His talk was well received and will be broadcast on national radio throughout the Faroe Islands.

Situated in the North Atlantic, halfway between Iceland and Norway, the Faroe Islands are breathtakingly beautiful.  We continue to come here to learn why
the pilot whale slaughter is still going on when so many factors speak against it. Mercury is the most toxic non-radioactive element in the world.  According to the World Health Organization, the developing brain is thought to be the most sensitive target organ for methylmercury toxicity. 

Why anyone would expose themselves or others to the health risks linked to consumption of pilot whales is mind boggling to us.  And it is heartbreaking that so many pilot whales are eradicated and reduced to toxic piles of meat and blubber that no one should eat. 

The people who live here are the only ones who can stop it.  Unlike the dolphin hunters in Japan, many Faroese dolphin hunters are very forthcoming about what they do.  They are willing to talk to us.

Ric with his daughter Mai Li, with Jens Mortan Rasmussen in the Faroe Islands.

A good example is Jens Mortan Rasmussen who is refreshingly open and honest about the pilot whale slaughter.   He knows of our position to the hunt and yet is open to dialog.

This gives us a glimmer of hope. 

More about all of this later.  We are going to be here for a while, trying to win friends and influence people.

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About Ric O'Barry

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Ric O’Barry, Dolphin Project Founder & Director has worked on both sides of the captive dolphin issue, making him an invaluable asset in the efforts to end exploitation. He worked for 10 years within the dolphin captivity industry, and has spent the past 40 working against it.

In the 1960s, O’Barry was employed by the Miami Seaquarium, where he captured and trained dolphins, including the five dolphins who played the role of Flipper in the popular American TV-series of the same name. He also trained Hugo, the first orca kept in captivity east of the Mississippi. When Kathy, the dolphin who played Flipper most of the time, died in his arms, O’Barry realized that capturing dolphins and training them to perform silly tricks is simply wrong.

From that moment on, O’Barry knew what he must do with his life. On the first Earth Day, 1970, he launched a searing campaign against the multi-billion dollar dolphin captivity industry and has been going at it ever since.

Over the past 40 years, Ric O’Barry has rescued and rehabilitated dolphins in many countries around the world, including Haiti, Colombia, Guatemala, Nicaragua, Brazil, the Bahamas Islands and the United States. He is a leading voice in the fight to end brutal dolphin hunts in Japan, the Solomon Islands, the Faroe Islands, and wherever else they occur.

O’Barry has been recognized by many national and international entities for his dedicated efforts, such as being voted Huffington Post’s 2010 Most Influential Green Game Changer, and being listed on O Magazine’s 2010 Power List – Men We Admire for his “Power of Passion.” O’Barry received an Environmental Achievement Award, presented by the United States Committee for the United Nations Environmental Program. He has done countless interviews with such prestigious news programs as Larry King Live, Anderson Cooper 360, the Mike Huckabee Show, and the Oprah Winfrey Show.

His book Behind the Dolphin Smile was published in 1989; a second book, To Free A Dolphin was published in September 2000. Both of them are about his work and dedication. He is the star of the Academy Award-winning documentary The Cove and the Animal Planet television series Blood Dolphin$.

Author: Ric O'Barry


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