By Jackie King
Taiji cove has again become a hunting ground for marine mammals as Japan’s annual hunt began once again, despite continued international outrage. Japan has a long history of whaling, and Taiji Cove residents have been perfecting their techniques since the 1600s. The hunting season, or Drive Hunt, began on Sept. 1 and will continue until the month of February for dolphins and the end of April for whales.
Each year, a select group of fishermen captures hundreds of marine mammals, most prominently bottlenose and striped dolphins. They do so by first locating a pod and banging metal pipes in strategic places to disrupt the dolphins’ sonar and navigation skills, allowing the fishermen to push the selected pod into Taiji Cove. The dolphins are then closed off by fishermen’s nets, preventing their escape. Captured animals are either sold or killed.
The Japanese government now only allows dolphins to be killed by stabbing a metal pin into the dolphin’s neck. According to the Guardian, “The fishermen push a sharp metal spike into the dolphins’ necks just behind the blowholes, which is supposed to sever the spinal cord and produce an instant ‘humane’ death. The fishermen then push dowel-like wooden corks into the wounds to prevent their blood from spilling into the cove.” According to Senzo Uchida, the executive secretary of the Japan Cetacean Conference on Zoological Gardens and Aquariums, this method kills the dolphins in seconds, but a 2011 veterinarian analysis of video footage of dolphins being killed this way concluded that in some cases death can take over four minutes.
Murdered dolphins are disassembled and have their meat and blubber sold. Those kept alive are sold to resorts and marine parks around the world as “rescued” animals, making these places seem more humane and allowing for better marketing. Taiji’s fishermen can sell these mammals to brokers for about 8,000 dollars apiece. A fully trained dolphin can be sold for over 40,000 dollars overseas or about 20,000 dollars in Japan. In 2015, the World Association of Zoos and Aquariums (WAZA) banned any transfer of dolphins that came from Taiji, Japan, but these marine animals are still easily sold to corporations and “swimming with dolphins” resorts that do not belong to WAZA.
In the 2015-16 Drive Hunt, there was a 426 bottlenose dolphin quota, but the fishermen were only able to capture 104 and kill 66. For the striped dolphin, the quota was 450, but they ended up killing all 290 dolphins that they captured. However, these numbers only show the number of animals killed by driving them into Taiji Cove and do not account for dolphins and other species that were killed using other methods.
In 2007, Japan claimed that they killed 1,239 animals in total. The Earth Island Institute, Surfers for Cetaceans, and Dolphins Project Inc. contests the number supplied by the Japanese, stating that the number of porpoises and dolphins killed per year is drastically higher than what Japan has claimed: probably around 25,000 total animal deaths each year.
In 2009, billionaire James H. Clark funded research and the production of a documentary film titled The Cove, which included five years of secretly filmed footage showing disputed killing techniques. The film also detailed the breaking of ranks by local fishermen who began to speak out about the major health risks of dolphin meat and blubber due to high mercury levels. The documentary won an Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature in 2010. Japanese native Keiko Yagi created the film Behind the Cove in 2015 as a rebuttal to Clark’s film. Yagi shows the fisherman’s point of view, taking a stance that people need to respect other countries’ food culture because dolphin and porpoise meat has been traditional Japanese cuisine for centuries.
Despite the work of countless activist groups, the 2019-20 hunting season recently began with an extremely high quota, allowing The twenty-six fisherman with government permits to kill over 1,4000 dolphins and 300 whales this season alone, not including others that will be killed using other methods, without a permit, or in other countries.
(Sources: ABC News, The Guardian, BBC)