There is a small Japanese town with a very dark secret: every year from September to February, the town opens up dolphin hunting season. Nearly one thousand dolphins will meet their demise in this one cove in the Japanese Kii peninsula, which makes it the largest annual cull of cetaceans in the world. In total, environmentalists estimate that about 26,000 dolphins around coastal Japan will be killed, with the town of Taiji at the center of the slaughter.
The town claims the dolphin slaughter is necessary for economic purposes. The dolphins are slaughtered and sold to food processing plants which distribute the meat around the world. The Japan Times reports that defenders of the dolphin killing say it is a tradition and point out that the animals it targets are not endangered, a position echoed by the Japanese government. They say Western objections are hypocritical and ignore the vastly larger number of cows, pigs and sheep butchered to satisfy demand elsewhere. But critics of the practice say there is insufficient demand for the animals’ meat, which, in any case, contains dangerous levels of mercury. Therefore, many companies mislabel the dolphin meat as whale to encourage consumer purchasing of the product.
The 2014-2015 hunting season is expected to be similar to last year’s season, in which, according to the charity Whale and Dolphin Conservation (WDC), some 850 dolphins of mixed species were killed, while more than 150 were taken alive for captivity. However, the dolphin killing is kept as quiet as possible, with many of the coves covered in large sheets so that photos and video can not be taken of the dolphin mass killing. This makes it difficult to truly calculate the exact number of dolphins killed each year in these secret coves. Oceanic Preservation Society (OPS) notes that over 20,000 dolphins are killed annually along the Japanese coast.
Japan Focus, which has been following the Taiji story, explains that the main reason this barbaric practice continues is due to media blackout in Japan on the subject.
“Japanese people don’t know that the largest slaughter of cetaceans in the world — 36,000 a year — is taking place in their own waters, at Taiji, Iwate and Futo; and they don’t know that the Japanese people are hated around the world for this. The Japanese media is to blame for this blackout. That’s a story in itself. It’s very hard to get information on how many they capture in Taiji, but it is probably about 2,300 dolphins.”
The documentary The Cove brought the hunts into the media spotlight in the U.S., but many in Japan are still unaware that the practice takes place just miles away from bustling cities. Many activists feel that, if the Japanese people knew about the practice, they would demand an end to the unnecessary killing of these creatures.
Regardless of the outcry from animal rights activists, the first dolphin pod has been murdered in “The Cove” in Taiji yesterday, according to Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, who goes by the handle @CoveGuardians on Twitter.
First dolphin murder of the drive hunt season is complete as dead bodies are dragged to Taiji butcherhouse. #tweet4taiji 11:28am
— Cove Guardians (@CoveGuardians) September 16, 2014
The Cove Guardians also note that a baby dolphin calf was also killed in yesterday’s events. This is just the first pod to be killed during the annual cull. Zoe Ng, a local animal rights campaigner, said regarding the first killing, “Today a pod of Risso’s were murdered at the Cove. We’re frustrated beyond words. This year [the fishermen] hide behind tarps and still carry on their brutal murderous ways.”
Did you know about the great dolphin slaughters that take place each year in Taiji? What steps do you think need to be taken on an international level to ensure the safety of the dolphins in the region?