Will Japan Ever Acknowledge Dolphins’ Suffering?
Each year from approximately September 1 to March 1, a large-scale hunt of dolphins takes place in the small village of Taiji, Japan, as featured in the 2010 Academy Award-winning documentary The Cove. During this six-month long hunting season, dolphin hunters utilize drive hunt techniques to herd dolphins to shore, resulting in their capture or death.
The hunts are authorized by the Japan Fisheries Agency and regulated by an annual quota for certain species. The local fishing union organizes and participates in these hunts each year, with support from captive facilities and their trainers to assist in the dolphin selection process. Captured dolphins may be selected for live trade to aquariums and marine parks for display, while others are slaughtered for their meat.
On February 3, 2023, 28 striped dolphins lost their lives in the most inhumane way. Life Investigation Agency (LIA), headed up by Ren Yabuki and his team of all-Japanese activists was there to document the hunt. As in the previous two years, due to ongoing COVID-19-related travel disruptions, we continue to collaborate with LIA, as well as other teams of independent Japanese activists who are on the ground in Taiji to document the drives and other events that take place there.
February 3, 2023 – LIA documentation (translated from Japanese)
Each dolphin died in convulsions as a wooden stopper was inserted into their wound. What did the remaining dolphins, who could only wait to be killed by feeling the metal rods being stabbed one after another in their families, think at the end, other than fear?
On February 3, 2023, at 8:50 a.m., a pod of dolphins being chased by dolphin hunters was sighted south of the Tomyozaki lookout point.
The pod was being chased from the south to the north towards the Cove. At 9:05 a.m., the dolphins dove deep about one km away near the Taiji fishing port, and the hunters lost sight of them. At 9:20 a.m., the dolphins surfaced to breathe and were spotted again by the hunters, who began chasing them once again.
At this point, the pod was close enough to identify as a family group of 28 striped dolphins. The hunters repeatedly threw metal pipes with ropes attached to them at the dolphins, creating additional noise to drive them towards the Cove. One dolphin was hit directly from point-blank range, and sank deeply. Sensing this, the other dolphins turned around and tried to swim towards the dolphin, but the hunters relentlessly continued chasing them. The dolphins, exhausted but caring for the family to the end, were fleeing at a very slow speed.
At 9:36 a.m., the dolphins were pushed into Hatajiri Bay (the Cove), and the hunters pushed them directly into the Kageura Bay (the “killing” area in the Cove), where they were trapped in a net. It took about 16 minutes to swim from (in front of) the Taiji Fishing Port until they were pushed into the Cove, indicating that they were swimming at low speed.
At 9:38, the dolphins were netted at the back of Kageura Bay and pushed into a smaller area, causing them to panic and crash into the concrete seawall on the south side, some of them rushing onto the rocks on the north side. One of the dolphins had a gruesome fracture on its face, missing flesh in its oral cavity, exposing its pulp, bleeding profusely, and writhing around in agony. This is the most badly injured dolphin the LIA team has seen in Taiji.
Other dolphins were tangled in nets, injured and bleeding from their faces, backs, and tail fins. Striped dolphins tend to be quite sensitive, and panic when they are trapped in tight spaces, leading to situations of utter chaos.
The hunters used the engines and propellers of their skiff boats to drive the dolphins under the gray sheets. Divers caught the fleeing dolphins and brought them under the sheets, one by one, to be killed. In no time at all, all of the dolphins were tied under the gray sheet with black ropes at the base of their tail fins. These were then further tied to gray ropes, making it completely impossible for them to escape, and repeatedly pierced behind their blowholes with sharp metal rods, mangling their spinal cords. Each dolphin died in convulsions as a wooden stopper was inserted into their wound. What did the remaining dolphins, who could only wait to be killed by feeling the metal rods being stabbed one after another in their families, think at the end, other than fear?
At 10:00 a.m., all the dolphins were killed and loaded onto the skiff boat, covered with a silver sheet. The skiffs emerged from under the gray sheet and headed for the Taiji fishing port. Once there, they were dragged into the “butcher house” market and dismembered for meat, which was then sold in the supermarkets.
Facts about Taiji’s dolphin hunts
Dolphin hunting is NOT for subsistence or survival
Dolphin meat is not a popular food item in Japan, though it is somewhat of a local delicacy in certain regions of the country. It is not considered a main food staple or widely distributed throughout the nation. In addition, serious health concerns have been raised about consuming dolphin or whale meat, due to the toxins that are stored in the fatty tissue of these apex predators. Mercury contamination has been documented in dolphins, similar to tuna.
Dolphin hunting is NOT traditional
Taiji is a traditional whaling town, but in a different sense. In the past a single whale would be driven into a net by boats rowed by crews of men. The meat would be shared among the town’s citizens, and only a few whales were hunted each year.
Utilizing a fleet of motorized boats to herd hundreds of dolphins at a time is a newer practice, beginning in the late 1960s. Given that captured dolphins are sold for live captive display indicates that this is a commercial activity, not a traditional subsistence hunting method for community survival.
The hunts ARE driven by profits from captivity
A single bottlenose dolphin sold to a marine park can net several thousand dollars for the dolphin hunters, as opposed to several hundred dollars for a slaughtered dolphin’s meat. That captured dolphin will be trained to perform in shows or swim with paying tourists, earning hundreds of thousands for its owners during its lifetime. Ultimately, the hunts are not driven by the need for sustenance, or tradition, but rather the desire to profit from the exploitation of natural resources.
Dolphin hunting IS horrific and causes extreme suffering
It’s time that Japan be held accountable for causing extreme suffering to dolphins. TAKE ACTION and let Japan know that enough is enough!
Featured image: Striped dolphin pushed underneath the tarps before slaughter, The Cove, Taiji, Japan. Credit: LIA/DolphinProject.com