Taiji’s first dolphin hunts of 2020 have been bloody and horrific. Striped, Risso’s and bottlenose dolphins have all been subjected to live capture for the aquarium trade. The Risso’s and striped dolphins that were not deemed “attractive” enough for captivity were slaughtered.
Dolphin Project Cove Monitors documented multiple mammals being manhandled and dragged under the tarps. On several occasions, individual dolphins tried to swim away, desperately attempting to swim over the nets. During the drive on January 7th, one Risso’s dolphin began blowing large bubbles, struggling in a net, until one of the hunters approached it and forced the dolphin to meet its fate under the tarps. Four Risso’s were taken for captivity, and the rest of the family group were slaughtered.
On January 9th, a pod of bottlenose dolphins were tormented as divers grabbed individuals, put them in nets and subjected them to captive selection. And as in previous drives, dolphin trainers played their vital role in these hunts, by selecting which dolphins they wanted to take, to put on display and profit from. After a grueling six-hour drive and captive selection process, 14 individuals forever lost their freedom and were taken away in slings. The remainder of the pod was driven back out to sea. The release may be linked to population concerns: bottlenose dolphins are the most valuable species to the captivity industry and it is likely that the hunters want to keep this population reproducing for future captures, rather than slaughter them.
Striped dolphins faced some of the most horrific hunts this week, with two entire pods taken from the sea. On January 6th, four individuals were selected for captivity, while the others were slaughtered. In the drive on January 12th, one striped dolphin frantically tried to swim away from the hunters as its family was forced onto the beach of the killing Cove. The panicked mammal was bleeding profusely from its mouth, likely suffering severe injuries to its jaw. As one of the divers swam after the dolphin forcing it back into shallow waters, a trail of bright red blood could be seen in the water.
There are many causes for concern over Taiji’s drive hunts: the extreme level of cruelty involved, the lack of sustainability and the misleading representation by the Japanese government. The photos and videos taken by our team show the inhumane treatment of dolphins on multiple fronts. The striped dolphins underneath the tarps were struggling, and vocalizing for several minutes. This is clear evidence of extended suffering, despite the claim by Wakayama prefecture that drive hunt methods have been altered to be more “humane.” As documented in past drives, stress and harassment alone have been enough to cause the deaths of dolphins, even before they are dragged underneath the tarps. For a sentient, intelligent, and highly emotional creature to witness its family being slaughtered is unimaginably cruel.
From a conservation standpoint, there is great cause for concern in terms of the sustainability of Taiji’s dolphin hunts. The majority of dolphin species have longer gestation periods than humans. Risso’s dolphins have pregnancies that last 13-14 months, and bottlenose dolphins have gestation periods lasting about 12 months. Female dolphins give birth to one calf at a time, and spend several years raising their young. About a decade later, that calf may be ready to have young of their own. Cetaceans, including dolphins and other whales are slow to reproduce, and their populations struggle to recover after facing major threats. Thus, hunting them on a commercial scale is not sustainable.
Additionally, evidence suggests that past drive hunts in other areas of Japan, such as the Iki Islands have overexploited these localized dolphin populations, hunting them to depletion. Dolphins and other whales play valuable roles in keeping the ocean in balance. They are worth far more alive, wild and free.
The Japanese government has long claimed Taiji’s dolphin hunting is traditional, and a cultural hunt for meat. Whale products were valuable in the past, and possibly even vital to survival at some point in Japanese history. In current times, this is not the case. More importantly, there is no acknowledgement of the ties Taiji’s drive hunts have with the captivity industry, where the vast majority of the hunts’ profits are made.
I am second generation Japanese and my grandparents are from Shimonoseki, a town with ties to commercial whaling. Hunting dolphins and whales was never acknowledged as the quintessential part of Japanese culture by my family. In fact, I only recently learned about the town’s connection to whaling from an article by the Washington Post! All the years I have been visiting family in Japan and traveling to various parts, whale meat nor dolphin meat was never mentioned. But sadly, dolphinariums are numerous here.
It is vital that we continue to expose the cruelty that takes place in Taiji’s dolphin captures and slaughters, both within Japan and to the rest of the world. Awareness is key to igniting action. It’s up to us to change the tide on how the world sees dolphin captivity!