Following the capture of nine bottlenose dolphins on November 25 and 26, 2019, Dolphin Project Cove Monitors welcomed a much-needed streak of several blue coves, where no dolphins were captured or killed. On December 1, our team was joined at the lookout by a group of university students who were visiting for the weekend to learn about the dolphin and whale hunts that take place in Taiji, Japan. Amongst the group were students of various backgrounds and from different countries. The students were all participating in a global current events course, in which they were studying dolphin drive hunting and whaling. Cove Monitors had an open discussion about the reasons for Dolphin Project’s presence in Taiji and of the organization’s views. Below is an excerpt of this discussion:
1. What do you have against people eating dolphins? People eat cows, pigs, and chickens – don’t they matter, too?
Dolphin meat contains dangerously high levels of mercury, and other toxic chemicals, rendering the meat unsafe for human consumption. This danger has been documented on countless occasions within Taiji and across Japan, where the meat is not labeled appropriately and often significantly exceeds various health and regulatory limits. It is in everyone’s best interest to not eat dolphin meat, or otherwise face potentially serious health complications. Eating dolphin has become less popular in Japan and our team has seen freshly-caught whale sitting on the shelves for extended periods of time.
2. What do you plan to do to stop the hunts? Surely taking pictures doesn’t actually do anything?
In order to accomplish our objective of ending the hunts, first we must bring awareness to the issue and share the brutality of the slaughters and captures that happen in Taiji with the rest of the world. Live streaming does just that. It is not uncommon to meet a Japanese person unaware of the hunts, and often when we tell them about it they are horrified. It is the Japanese people who have the power to fight for legislative changes in Japan, and therefore it is paramount that they have all the information they need to do so.
Similarly, many people in other parts of the world are unaware of the brutality of live dolphin captures. If people were aware of how the mammals were captured and transported into the tanks, or that the dolphins’ family members were massacred in the process, the captivity industry might become much less desirable and people might stop buying tickets to dolphin shows. In order to end the demand for captive dolphins, people need to stop supporting facilities which keep dolphins in captivity.
3. What about the other countries that practice whaling? Why are you singling out Japan?
Dolphin Project focuses on dolphin drive hunting in Taiji, Japan as this is ground zero for the captivity industry. Here, dolphins are driven into the Cove and then sold to aquariums and marine parks worldwide. The captivity industry fuels the hunts as trained dolphins are sold for thousands of dollars. Monies made on slaughtering dolphins would not sustain these hunts for six months of the year.
4. Japan has been whaling for hundreds of years, why are you trying to stop them?
There is a vast difference between what Japan has historically referred to as the “cultural tradition” of whaling versus the current practice of dolphin drive hunting. While whaling has indeed been an important part of Japan’s history and tradition, capturing wild dolphins and exporting them around the world certainly has not. The dolphin hunts and captures are a relatively new practice in Taiji and have only been around since the 1960’s. Furthermore, the evolution of boating equipment and technology has removed any semblance of traditional whale hunting from the dolphin hunts.
Hundreds of years ago, large groups of the local townsmen would set out to sea on wooden oar-powered boats and seek out a single large whale; the hunt would often last hours and was considered very dangerous at the time. Back then, the whales had a much better chance of survival given the effort required for a successful hunt. However, today the dolphin hunters each have their own petrol-powered boats and collectively cover hundreds of square miles per day in search of dolphins, communicating with each other by radio. Once a pod is found, the powerful boats charge together to drive the dolphins into The Cove. The hunters then wrestle dolphins into slings and slaughter others, all under the cover of tarps in order to hide the brutality from public view. If the drive hunts are traditional, why do the hunters hide their actions? The answer is clear: “cultural tradition” is an unconvincing justification for a brutal, high-tech and relatively new practice of hunting and capturing dolphins; there is simply nothing traditional about it.
5. Captive facilities provide an educational experience for people to learn about the mammals and appreciate them in their natural environment, don’t they?
Captive facilities present animals in an environment that is anything but natural. Dolphins in tanks swim around in circles all day and are forced to perform tricks for their food. At the Taiji Whale Museum, Cove Monitors documented three Pacific white-sided dolphins being forced to aggressively splash at the surface for prolonged periods of time in return for frozen fish. In absolutely no natural circumstances would dolphins ever be seen exhibiting such behavior, swimming in tiny enclosures or eating dead fish.
Ironically, the dolphins’ captors seem to agree that captivity is unnatural as they frequently shut down suggestions of rehabilitation/release programs, claiming that the dolphins have “been in captivity for too long” or “could never fend for themselves in the wild”. If their captive environments are so natural, how could this possibly be the case?
A future where no dolphins are captured or killed
Fortunately, with every passing day, technology and video quality is progressing at an exponential rate, giving rise to innovative means of education about our natural world. With new docuseries being released online and the increasing accessibility of virtual reality, people are being given more opportunities to learn about animals in their true, natural habitats. Surely if children can learn to appreciate dinosaurs despite never being able to see them, we can learn to appreciate cetaceans and other wild animals without their presence in captivity.
The above topics represent just a few of the questions that Cove Monitors are frequently asked about the Taiji drive hunts. For more information on what happens in Japan and why we are trying to stop it, please visit: Taiji Facts/Frequently Asked Questions.
Featured image: Dolphin Project Cove Monitors scan the horizon for dolphin hunting boats, Taiji, Japan. Credit: DolphinProject.com
Guest blogger: Dave Brown