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In Taiji, the Dolphin Killing Continues

| Mark J. Palmer
Topics: Dolphin and Whale Trade, Dolphins, Slaughter, Taiji, Japan

The annual dolphin hunt and slaughter begins in Taiji on September 1st, and goes through the end of February (although the dolphin hunters can still harpoon pilot whales through March).

This year is off to another slow start, with only a few pods of dolphins successfully herded into the notorious Cove and killed (with some, inevitably, being hauled out and separated from their families forever, for a life of captivity).  Weather has been poor, and at other times the hunters have simply failed in finding any offshore pods of dolphins.

This year’s quota for the 2018-2019 season is 2040 dolphins from nine different species of dolphins.  As in the past, we don’t expect the dolphin hunters to come anywhere near these totals, but the hunters will likely make large amounts of money anyway, especially with life-caught dolphins. 

A trained live dolphin on the world market can be sold for $155,000 or more, while a dead dolphin sold to the market for meat will only bring around $500-600, depending on the size of the dolphin.  There has been a decline in dolphin meat sales (paralleled in general by declining interest in whale meat from Japan’s “scientific” whaling), as the younger generation in Japan prefers other foods.

To date, there have only been five days during the past two months of the season when the hunters have successfully driven dolphins into the Cove, mostly small pods of Risso’s dolphins with one large pod of bottlenose dolphins and, more recently, a pod of rough-toothed dolphins.   The bottlenose dolphins are the most sought after by the hunters, as they are in demand for dolphinariums in Japan, China, the Middle East, and other nations. 

Of the pod of 40 bottlenose dolphins, 15 were caught for captivity, while the rest of the pod was turned loose.  Similarly, reportedly 6 of the rough-toothed dolphins were kept for captivity and the rest released from the Cove.  This may sound like a humane gesture, but the disturbance to the pods from the losses of their family members to captivity does have reverberations.   For example, some of the pod members may be dependent calves that have been deprived of their mothers.  Female dolphins are more tractable than males, so the hunters prize them for captivity.  We also know that dolphins mourn for lost relatives and dead calves.   Also disrupted may be other important aspects of intact pods, such as the ability to coordinate hunting of fish among the members (now depleted). 

Dolphins can also suffer from physiological shock caused by the stress of capture, resulting in death.   And if the deaths occur after the captures, the dead dolphins do not count against the overall quota.  Nor do animals captured and then released.  The Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, which posts Cove Guardians in Taiji during the annual hunts, has reported in the past finding dead dolphins washed up on the shore in the area of Taiji.

There is some good news.  We are seeing more and more demonstrations against the dolphin hunts coordinated and led by Japanese animal rights activists.  Thus the concerns for Taiji are being communicated to the Japanese people by local people, not just Westerners.

The return of Sea Shepherd Cove Guardians this year is also a plus.  Last year, Sea Shepherd did not send activists to Japan, partly due to Japan’s continuing interception of these activists at airports and turning them away from Japan.  While some Sea Shepherd people have still been barred from entry this year, enough have gotten through the airport gauntlet to provide an ongoing presence in Taiji and have been successful in placing several stories in global newspapers, especially in Europe, about the bloody hunts.  

There are still four more months to go in the Taiji hunts, so dolphins will continue to suffer terribly in the Cove.

The International Marine Mammal Project of Earth Island Institute is focused on ending the dolphin hunts and Japan’s whaling by using the upcoming world media attention for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.   There will be a global spotlight on Japan, and the government must understand that the dolphin and whale hunts will prove embarrassing to Japan’s integrity and world standing.  Help us by signing our petition.