The Island and the Whales

The pilot whale hunters of the Faroe Islands believe that hunting is vital to their way of life, but when a local doctor makes a grim discovery about the effects of marine pollution, environmental changes threaten to end the controversial tradition and change the community forever.

In the North Atlantic archipelago of the Faroe Islands the traditional hunting of seabirds and pilot whales continues to provide food for the table, but many doubt the way of life will continue for many more years. Local species of seabirds are in catastrophic decline as the eco-system changes, and plastic flotsam fills their stomachs, while the pilot whales are highly contaminated with mercury and PCBs. A local toxicologist, Dr Pál Weihe, conducted a thirty year study of thousands of the islands’ children. He found that eating the contaminated whale meat could cause permanent cognitive impairment to children exposed in the womb, and may be linked to the islands’ high rate of Parkinson’s Disease, as well as other health problems. He concluded that the pilot whales were no longer suitable for human consumption. Although not acute, the health problems were significant, and effect us all, many species of fish also contain high levels of the same pollutants. The Faroe Islanders say they are a canary in the mine, their tale a warning to us all. As the islanders come to terms with the health revelations, they face increased pressure from the outside world to stop the whale hunts. Hundreds of anti-whaling activists arrive, determined to physically intervene in the hunts. Their presence creates a defensive reaction, the Faroese argue that the hunts are lawful and that the whales are not endangered and vow to continue. Director Mike Day spent three years filming across the Faroe Islands, following the hunters; a family who must choose between imported and traditional foods; the local doctor whose decades long study revealed the risks of eating the whale meat; and an ornithologist and taxidermist fighting to protect the seabirds. Mike's unique access meant that he was able to capture the whole picture, including the controversial hunts in full. The Island and the Whales is a film about how we live with the natural world, it is about our roots, identity, and disconnection from our environment; and it is a film about the impossible choices that we must make in the face of a changing world.

Production team