Each year, it is claimed around 20,000 beautiful and intelligent dolphins are captured and slaughtered in Japan.
The Japanese Fisheries Research Agency states that 1,623 dolphins were caught in Wakayama Prefecture in 2007 for human consumption or resale to dolphinariums. Of the 1,623, the majority were caught at Taiji.
The hunting season for bottlenose dolphins has just begun. It runs from September through to March every year and has been going on in Japan since 1969. However, residents of Taiji have been whale hunting since the 17th century. Several other towns have since given up this hunt. Taiji continues, citing it as an ancient tradition.
Many of the Japanese people are unaware of the dolphin hunt as it is has been largely hidden from the media. Roadblocks are put in place to stop access to the cove and the warehouses where the slaughter takes place are covered in tarpaulin so it can be very difficult to see what is happening.
By the time local people or tourists visit this area the sea has run clear and there are no visible traces showing what has taken place. The Japanese are frequently horrified to find out this happens on their doorstep.
The dolphins are captured and then slaughtered for their meat (despite having high mercury levels) or are sent to marine parks where they are held captive in an unnatural setting—forced to perform for food for many years. This causes many of them to suffer extreme signs of stress and anxiety and for others to commit suicide.
Despite the Academy Award Winning Documentary of 2009, The Cove, plus international growing awareness and calls for it to stop, it continues and there is no end in sight.
Once a pod has been spotted, the fishermen move their boats into place surrounding the family of dolphins. They use tactics to confuse, panic and disorientate the pod by lowering a long steel pole into the water and clanging it with a mallet to deliberately confuse their highly sensitive sonar. Doing this at strategic parts of the pod, along with a large net at one end enables the fishermen to herd them to shore.
The dolphins can fight relentlessly for their freedom for hours whilst out at sea.
However, the longer they fight the weaker they become, which makes them more vulnerable to capture. It is common for the pod to escape, as they battle against the net
When a pod has been herded into the cove, nets are in place to secure the dolphins and prevent any escape. The fishermen use deliberate methods of disabling the dolphins from escape, which include running over them with their boats, damaging their swimming abilities and injuring them with spears. The dolphins that have escaped injury by this point will not try to escape as they are loyal to the end and will not leave their family behind, putting them at the mercy of their brutal attackers.
Pods are often left overnight, even days, without food or water, swimming in their own blood. The emerald waters within this cove will literally turn red due to this process.
Huge numbers of dolphins will drown in the panic and mothers and babies can be heard desperately crying out for one another. The most beautiful, very young, or female dolphins will be handpicked to travel, often for days, to a concrete tank in marine parks across the world—to be displayed for “entertainment” purposes. They will be confined to a chemically filled tank, rather than swimming in the open sea for up to 40 miles every day side by side with their family.
Unwanted dolphins may then be driven back to the sea, disorientated, traumatized, injured and separated from their mothers and family members. Sadly they are then easy prey to sharks or will likely die from their wounds or starvation.
Those dolphins heading for the slaughterhouse will be stabbed through their spine with metal rods. This is the sanctioned method, so they will die within seconds, according to a memo from Senzo Uchida, executive secretary of the Japan Cetacean Conference on Zoological Gardens and Aquariums. Sadly, this is all too often done incorrectly causing the dolphins to be injured but still conscious.
The dolphins are then dragged from the water using chains, loaded onto a truck to be butchered for their meat. Dolphins have lungs and are able to breathe out of water, many are still alive when they reach the slabs having their throats cut and left to die.
Japanese officials point out that there is currently no ban on killing Bottlenose Dolphins and argue that it is no worse than those in the West killing sheep, cows and pigs. However, in Japan, there are no laws in place to govern any part of this unthinkable cruelty. They refuse to accept that this inhumane and tortuous act is any worse than what other countries do.
Sadly, Taiji is not the only fishing town that continues this “dolphin drive hunt.”
Approximately $150,000 dollars can be made from the sale of one dolphin for a marine park, so it is a highly profitable business for these fishermen.
The carnage has been well documented in the documentary The Cove and also by members of The Cove Guardians and The Sea Shepherd Conservation Society. The Cove Guardians have volunteers on the ground every single day throughout the six month long season. They provide daily accounts of what is taking place there and regularly provide live streaming. Shannon Doherty of the SSCS witnessed this first hand when she went out to Taiji and live streamed footage.
Speaking after her visit to Japan Doherty said:
“The brutality of Taiji’s hunt does not end with the dolphins and whales slaughtered in the cove. The suffering continues for those who are taken from the ocean and imprisoned for captivity. It was emotional to join the Cove Guardians at Taiji Whale Museum, and see the dolphins in these small, barren tanks where they will spend the rest of their lives. They’ve already endured so much, witnessing the deaths of their families.”
Dolphins are mammals like us and they experience pain, stress and fear. This brings scientists and animal advocates to believe they should receive “non-human rights.” This would mean they would be allowed to live a life of freedom and not endure such barbaric treatment, not only during this “drive-hunt,” but by not being forced to live a life of captivity in dolphinariums. They become no more than a slave, a means to entertain humans, with no regard for what they will endure every minute they are trapped in such unnatural and depressing conditions.
Fortunately, awareness is growing and activists continue to battle to put an end to it. As people learn of the horror they boycott dolphinariums and marine parks and sign petitions in hope that they will be heard and acted on. The Japanese people are becoming more educated about the dangers to eating dolphin meat. By sharing this information and putting the spotlight on Taiji and the constant negative coverage it receives every year, there is hope that eventually there will be an end.
On the 30th of September, 2014, Simon Cowell announced via Twitter that he would not be showing recently recorded footage of contestants swimming with dolphins. This recording was due to be aired on Saturday, October 4th, however thanks to much campaigning, Cowell learned the background behind dolphin captivity and withdrew it immediately. This sparked a huge response from Twitter followers causing the topic to trend on Twitter, as many supported this move.
Cowell, who is an animal rights activist himself stated:
“I think you all know my view on cruelty to animals, so thank you all for your concern.”
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Editorial Apprentice: Richard May / Editor: Travis May
Photo: Dan Junkins / 500px