The Islands and the Whales

The Scottish-made documentary The Islands and the Whales is set in the remote Faroe Islands, and through much of the documentary we are treated to the rugged scenery that comes with this far-away country. The mountains seem to be continuously covered in cloud, and that seems to further isolate the region, something director Mike Day seems to have done consciously. The documentary is jaw-dropping in its visual splendour and we are given an insight into a very difficult topic that is often discussed around the world: whaling.

In The Islands and the Whales, we follow the everyday routine of hunting pilot whales and capturing sea birds for sustenance. This is present in a very blunt manner, and will prove to be tough viewing for the everyday audience. While the documentary is cautiously distant from the topic it covers, it continuously alludes to the importance of legend and tradition for the Faroese people who, since the time of the Vikings 1000 years ago, have relied on the seas for its livelihood. We watch as men and boys wait on the beach as fisherman trap whales inside a narrow bay. The whales are then stabbed through their blowhole, the carcasses are skinned and hacked for consumption.

The only outside opinion we see is when the Sea Shepherds – a marine conservation group with none other than Pamela Anderson leading the way – attempt a blockade. Hard questions from the villagers point out the fact that it’s notoriously difficult to farm on the Faroe Islands and importing foreign kinds of meat from elsewhere would likely cause as much harm to the environment as hunting the local whales. When the Sea Shepherd suggests that everyone just go vegetarian instead, you can see the shock of the islanders who know there are few alternatives living that remotely.

Environmental pollution and the threat of globalisation are the main focus of The Islands and the Whales. Many doubt that their traditions will continue as sea birds are in catastrophic decline due to plastic in their bodies, which is also shown in the documentary. The pilot whales have also become highly contaminated with mercury and PCBs, and local toxicologist Pal Weihe presents his thirty years of research on the matter, saying that the whale meat is causing permanent cognitive impairment to children in the womb and could be linked to the high rate of Parkinson’s Disease on the island.

Whatever your opinion is when it comes to whaling, as the documentary argues, the marine life around the Faroe Islands are being contaminated and everyone are to blame for harming an isolated nation’s food supply.

Emma Vestrheim

Emma Vestrheim is the editor-in-chief of Cinema Scandinavia. Originally from Australia, she is now based in Bergen, Norway, and attends major Nordic film festivals to conduct interviews and review new films.