The remote Faroe Islands has promised to review its four-century-old tradition of hunting dolphins, following global outrage over last weekend’s hunt in which nearly 1,500 of the sea mammals were slaughtered by locals.

In a statement, the government of the semi-independent Danish territory said it would evaluate the regulations surrounding the annual hunt, known as the Grindadrap.

“We take this matter very seriously,” Prime Minister Bardhur A Steig Nielsen said Thursday. “Although these hunts are considered sustainable, we will be looking closely at the dolphin hunts, and what part they should play in Faroese society.”

Last Sunday’s catch of 1,428 Atlantic white-sided dolphins is estimated to be the largest in Faroese history, and may have even been too great a catch to be consumed by the entire 50,000-person population of the territory, which is halfway between Scotland and Iceland.

Hunters in the Faroe Islands have been killing whales and dolphins since Viking times. Their meat is considered a key part of Faroese culture and is shared among the community.

According to People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, a survey of Faroese adults revealed that 7 percent of respondents consumed pilot whale meat and blubber regularly, with almost half (47 percent) admitting they rarely or never ate them.

Dolphin hunting tradition in the Faroe Islands has come under scrutiny after more than 1,400 dolphins were killed on Sept. 12. (Reuters)

Environmentalists and marine conservation organizations have long condemned the annual killing, but outrage was particularly widespread this year given the size of the pod.

The conservation organization Sea Shepherd denounced the killings, deeming the event a “brutal and badly mishandled massacre,” while social media users reacted to photos of bloody waters and beach-strewn dolphin carcasses in horror.

The government acknowledged that the latest hunt “raised some issues,” and that last Sunday’s drive was “extraordinary” because the dolphin pod was “several times larger” than usual, adding that hunters had severely underestimated the size of the group.

The average number of white-sided dolphins killed in each year’s hunt is usually estimated to be around 250, making last week’s haul six times as large as usual, which posed challenges for locals who struggled to handle the pod.

Hunters round up the dolphins for hours, using jet-skis and boats, before eventually slaying the creatures for their meat and blubber. The practice is “legal but it’s not popular,” Sjurdur Skaale, a Danish lawmaker for the Faroe Islands, told the BBC last week.

“For such a hunt to take place in 2021 in a very wealthy island community just 230 miles from the [United Kingdom] with no need or use for such a vast quantity of contaminated meat is outrageous,” said Robert Read, Sea Shepherd’s chief operating officer.

Dolphin drives have been adapted in recent years to make them more humane, with hunters asked to use a special tool to kill the animals and required to hold a license. Given the size of last week’s slaying, some animal rights campaigners expressed concerns that the animals may not have been killed using the correct methods, meaning they may not have died instantly.

According to Skaale, if equipment specially designed to quickly sever the spinal chord of the whale or dolphin is used correctly, the creatures are killed in “less than a second.”

According to a recent poll from Kringvarp Foroya, the national broadcaster of the Faroe Islands, more than 83 percent of the population continues to support the killing of pilot whales — which are classified as a species of dolphin — but more than half of the islanders (53 percent) are opposed to killing the white-sided dolphin.

Hans Jacob Hermansen, the former chairman of the Faroe Islands’ association behind the annual dolphin killings, defended the practice last week.

Speaking to the Associated Press, Hermansen said the hunt was no different “from killing cattle or anything else,” and that reaction had likely been so strong because the slaughter took place in the public eye.

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