I saw that dozens of small boats were rushing out from the harbour of the Faroese capital, Torshavn, heading to the southern horizon.
I stopped my hire car on a grassy cliff near the national hospital and watched ominous crowds gather on a small beach below.
Gradually it dawned on me – this was the start of the Faroese traditional ‘Grindadrap’ or whale hunt, a sight rarely witnessed by a journalist, or anyone, from the outside world.
The Faroes have been allowed to continue their primitive form of whaling while most of the rest of the world agreed to try and conserve these intelligent, beautiful and endangered sea mammals.
The Faroes claim that their old-fashioned whale hunt is different from controversial commercial whaling practised by Japan, Norway and Iceland.
On the Faroes, no money changes hands; it is instead a rare and very communal event.
They say whaling supplies them with their favourite meat and the blubber contains vital nutrients missing from what was in ancient times a fruit-and-veg-free diet.
Blubber platters, dried whale meat and whale steaks are popular dishes in Faroese restaurants.
They claim that the whale killing is done by a chosen few skilled men who dispatch the whales as humanely as possible. “It is a dignified end for an animal that has a wonderful free-range life,” one local told me.
Simon Heptinstall found a whale slaughter happening in the Faroe Islands
A flotilla of small boats drove the whales towards the shore where knifemen awaited
Yet as I watched 100 terrified whales hurling themselves towards the shore I couldn’t help thinking this was more about the thrill of the chase than any glorious tradition.
Laughing families were summoning their friends on mobile phones. Shaven headed teenagers spilled from bars after watching the football clutching beer bottles.
Men striking macho poses slapped each other on the back like warriors about to do battle. Excited children were borne on dads’ shoulders.
All the while the approaching whales were frantically squirting through their blowholes, leaping and crashing into each other.