Which Birds are Delicacies in the Faroe Islands?
The Faroe Islands are home to a wonderful array of seabirds including a colony of gannets which is located on the most westerly island of Mykines. The young gannets are considered to be a delicacy by the residents of the Faroes. Once each year, hunters risk life and limb to abseil down the steep cliffs to catch the birds.
The hunt for the gannets is a major mission which involves carrying an extremely heavy rope along a cliff-top path. The rope is 150m long and it takes eight men over an hour to haul it to the cliffs. The final climb to the edge of the cliff is undertaken in the dark. One by one, the hunters then step into a simple harness and abseil down the sheer cliff face to a ledge below. A team of men remain at the top so they can haul the hunters and gannets back up the cliffs. They are forced to wait at the top in very cold conditions for several hours, wondering whether there will be a good catch.
The Faroese Diet
The residents of the Faroe Islands don’t like to be dependent on imported food. Much of their diet is made up of meat from animals which they have reared themselves but they also like to hunt. Seabirds and whales are fundamentals of the traditional Faroese diet.
In the early hours of the morning, it is time for the waiting men to return to the rope. Hundreds of dead birds are hauled back up the cliff. The birds are youngsters which had been only hours from fledging and are tied in bunches. Each bird weighs around 4kg.
After the birds have been pulled up the cliff, the hunters are hauled back up. They return covered in muck and smelling of gannet guano! They have usually been scratched and had their clothes ripped by the birds’ sharp beaks.
The birds are then thrown over the cliff and into the sea where they are picked up by a small fishing boat waiting below. This delivers the birds to a village jetty from where they are later collected. The annual hunting expedition typically yields a catch of 500 gannets. Each member of the rope-hauling team gets to choose two birds to take home as a reward for participating in the hunt.
The people of the Faroe Islands have preserved many of their treasured traditions. The gannet hunt provides food for the locals who are careful to leave enough young birds on the cliffs to sustain the population of the seabirds.