Dolphin hunting is a centuries-old practice in the Faeroe Islands.
But the tradition is facing fresh scrutiny after more than 1,400 of the aquatic mammals were killed Sunday in a record-breaking slaughter that has sparked outcry among local residents and global environmental groups, NBC News reported.
The hunt in the North Atlantic islands is not done for commercial purposes and is authorized by the government, but even those who support the practice expressed concern this year's event could prompt greater scrutiny.
For hundreds of years, residents of the Faeroe Islands have participated in the annual hunting tradition, which is known as the "grind," or grindadrap in Faeroese. It sees pilot whales, the second largest species of dolphins following the orcas, and other dolphins corralled into fjords before being stabbed to death.
According to the Faeroese government, the practice is "fully regulated" and considered "sustainable," with around 600 pilot whales and 250 white-sided dolphins caught on average each year over the past two decades.
Sunday's catch blew past that average, however, with the Seattle-based Sea Shepherd Conservation Society estimating that at least 1,428 white-sided dolphins were killed in what the organization branded a "cruel and unnecessary hunt."
Pall Nolsoe, a spokesperson for the Faeroe Islands' Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Culture, acknowledged that Sunday's catch was "exceptionally large."
However, he maintained that even Sunday's catch would be considered sustainable by the Faeroese government, with the hunting practice helping to sustain communities through locally sourced means.
"It's very important to understand that the basis of whaling in the Faeroe Islands is to provide food," he said. "The meat is distributed among the participants ... and also to local communities."
Further, he noted that the whale drives have taken place in the Faeroe Islands "since the Viking age," so the "grind" is considered by many to be an important part of the Faeroese cultural identity and heritage.