The world was first introduced to the coastal village of Taji, Japan in the 2009 documentary, “The Cove“. The film showed the capture and grisly slaughter of dolphins for meat and for sale to aquariums. A new hunt that began this past Friday ended with 41 dead dolphins from five different pods, and the international community reacted with outrage. One of the animals kept alive is a rare baby albino bottlenose dolphin which may be destined for a marine park – along with scores of others forced into a life of captivity.
This past weekend, Taji fisherman drove over 200 dolphins into the cove to be killed for meat or sold to zoos throughout the world. According to the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, 41 were killed for meat and 52 were captured for sale to aquariums. Since 2000, the Whale and Dolphin Conservation group reports that fisherman have killed over 18,000 dolphins across seven different species.
Hunters use a method known as “drive fishing,” where dolphins are forced into the shallow waters of the cove. Fishermen tie their tails to prevent them from moving, or haul them into a boat. They are stabbed with a metal rod to sever their spinal cord and are left to bleed out or suffocate. Hunters generally kill the largest adults, orphaning calves.
The Japanese government defends these hunting practices as tradition and says that they are no different than the Western farming of cows or pigs. However dolphin meat is no longer a vital food source for the community, so the hunters now seek lucrative prices for live animals brokered to zoos. Prices for wild-caught dolphins can range anywhere from $40,000 according to Whale and Dolphin Conservation to $150,000 reported by Ric O’Barry from the Dolphin Project.
Caroline Kennedy, the US ambassador to Japan, tweeted: “Deeply concerned by inhumaneness of drive hunt dolphin killing.” on January 17. The mayor of Taji, Kazutaka Sangen replied, “I understand her statement as an expression of her concern on this debate. There always are the people who say it’s wrong and it’s right, but what we have to see is if fishermen are hunting endangered species or not. They don’t. We are fishing under the permission just like the U.S. does.”
Even if the fishermen are acting within the law, the history of Japanese whale hunting in Antarctic waters despite an existing moratorium casts a shadow over their defense of dolphin hunting. The struggle continues between acknowledging cultural sovereignty and protecting some of the ocean’s most intelligent and sensitive creatures against exploitation.