This article contains graphic images.
Sea mammals are always brutally killed in the Faroe Islands’ annual tradition of the “grind” – but 1,428 of the white-sided dolphins died in this year’s hunt, more than seven times the anticipated number.
The chairman of the Faroese Whalers Association, Olavur Sjurdarberg, even admitted to the BBC that too many dolphins were slaughtered on Sunday.
He said: “It was a big mistake. When the pod was found, they estimated it to be only 200 dolphins.”
Although he did not take part in the hunt, Sjurdarberg said it was only once the killing started that the real size of the pod was revealed.
He added: “Somebody should have known better. Most people are in shock about what happened.”
What is the “grind” hunt?
The grind – known as the Grindadrap in Faroese – is when licensed hunters drive the dolphins into a narrow body of water near shore ever year before killing the animals with knives.
Their bodies are then distributed to the local population on the Danish territory for consumption.
The tradition is certainly graphic, as the sea water turns red and is filled with carcasses, but the hunting of sea mammals, including whales, is a centuries-old tradition.
It’s said to be a sustainable method of gathering food while allowing the locals to stay in touch with their culture, although it remains controversial among environmentalists and animal rights groups.
Why this year’s hunt was different
The local government claims 600 pilot whales are normally caught each year, while white-sided dolphins are usually caught in numbers below 50.
Faroese marine biologist Bjarni Mikkelsen pointed out this was the largest number of dolphins killed in one day on the territory – the previous record being 1,200 in 1940.
Could there be a change on the horizon?
Sunday’s hunt broke records, no laws were broken and it was still approved by local authorities, according to Mr Sjurdaberg – but it could provide the turning point campaigners have been looking for.
Trondur Olsen, a journalist for Faroese public broadcaster Kringvarp Foroya, said: “This is a good time for campaigners to put even more pressure on.
“It will be different this time because the numbers are very big.”
The practice has also been put in the spotlight this year after being criticised in the popular Netflix documentary, Seaspiracy.
According to a poll from the broadcaster, more than 50% of respondents do not want to continue killing the dolphins after Sunday’s horror show.
There was a strong reaction online too, with one commentator claimed on Facebook, “I’m embarrassed to be Faroese” after seeing the images of this year’s hunt.
Another local Henri Petersen – who chairs the Grind hunting association – told local news outlet In.fo: “I’m appalled at what happened. The dolphins lay on the beach writhing for far too long before they were killed.”
This goes against the Faroese government promise that the animals are always killed quickly and as humanely as possible.
Even the former chair of the Faroese Grind Association, Hans Jacob Hermansen, said this year’s hunt “destroys all the work we have done to preserve the Grind”.
But it’s unlikely the tradition will cease altogether after this year; a different survey from Kringvarp Foroya found 80% want to continue killing pilot whales in the yearly ‘grind’.
This article originally appeared on HuffPost UK and has been updated.