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A film by Mike Day

81 and 52 minute versions

Closed Captioning provided


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 affect 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.


Winner, Grand Jury Prize DOC NYC

Nominee for Best documentary, BAFTA Scotland

Winner, Best Emerging Filmmaker HOTDOCS

Winner Best Film, Wild and Scenic Festival

Winner Best Documentary, Irvine International Film Festival

Winner Best Documentary, Reykjavik IFF



Despite the title, “The Islands and the Whales” is about people and their precious traditions that are challenged by modern-day pollution and scary messages from scientists. This documentary is captivating and touching, as it goes under the skin of a faraway population and makes you feel the paradoxes that face them. Apart from the beauty of the scenery and the excitement from the dramas, the film provides food for numerous discussions that should stimulate cross-disciplinary student populations, whether from the humanities, political science, medicine, or environmental studies. This film is particularly well suited to expose different perspectives, as there is no finger pointing or finger wagging. It has multiple dimensions, and they are all beautifully depicted.

- Professor Philippe Grandjean, Harvard University

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