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Hundreds of Sea Shepard Activists Defending Whales from Denmark's 'Grind'

Jun 17, 2014 04:22 PM EDT

Hundreds of activists with the Sea Shepard conservation group are flocking to the Faroe Islands in Denmark this week to defend against the annual slaughter of some 900 pilot whales - a massacre locally known as a "grind."

Some 500 volunteers will patrol the ocean and beaches of the remote North Atlantic archipelago, an autonomous country within Denmark, from mid-June to October to try to stop the killing of pilot whales, members of the dolphin family. The Sea Shepard Conservation Society, leading the effort, plans to document the hunt.

Locals argue that these hunts, a hundreds-year-old tradition, are necessary for sustenance, but the organization's director Alex Cornelissen is not fooled.

"The subsistence argument is no longer valid, this is now more entertainment than anything, an obsolete massacre," he told the AFP, noting that the dolphins are in any case unfit for human consumption as they contain high levels of mercury.

When the cetaceans are spotted offshore, hunters in small boats force them into the bay where they hack them to death with hooks and knives - deemed a "cultural right" by some.

More than 265,000 small cetaceans have been reportedly killed in the Faroe Islands, mainly between the months of June and October, according to Sea Shepherd - some 1,500 since July 2013.

The Sea Shepard campaign, referred to as Operation GrindStop 2014, holds no authority, but volunteers nonetheless are prepared to go to jail to protect these marine animals.

The activists will stand guard "to sound the alarm, interfere, and document" what happens, according to a Sea Shepherd statement.

Sea Shepard has carried out such a campaign before, The Dodo reports, including one in Taiji, Japan, where hundreds of dolphins are slaughtered each year. They call the Faroe Islands the "Taiji of Europe."

"Sea Shepherd has led the opposition to the brutal and needless killing of cetaceans in the Faroe Islands for decades. This year, we return to the Faroes in full force and stronger than ever before," said its president France Lamya Essemlali.

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