February 18, 2010
For years, fishermen in Japan, Denmark's Faroe Islands, and a few other regions have targeted not only fish but the dolphins and other small cetaceans who feed on them. In bloodbaths hard to imagine, fishermen in port towns such as Taiji slaughter tens, even hundreds, of bottlenose dolphins, Risso's dolphins, and false killer whales at a time. They kill them for meat and because they consider them competition for fish; they also sell a select few dolphins to marine parks and aquaria. How horrified the visitors who flock to those parks and aquaria would be to learn that the very establishments that present marine mammals as beloved entertainers financially support the slaughter of their kin.
What is a drive fishery?
Fishermen take out several small motorized boats to locate a pod of bottlenose dolphins, Risso's dolphins, or false killer whales (and possibly such other species as pilot whales). Once the fishermen locate a pod, they begin herding the animals toward shore, using the noise of the boats' engines and the banging of pipes underwater. There are some reports that they also use underwater explosives.
The fishermen will then either drive the animals right onto the shore or trap them in a bay. Either way, shallow water is necessary, because fishermen slaughter the dolphins by getting into the water and moving through the pod, stabbing animals to death. The fishermen may set some live animals aside for marine parks and remove them from the water using slings or stretchers. Animals destined for slaughter may be hauled out onto land with cranes, often still alive. The cruelty is enormous.
Dolphin drives are nothing new. At one time, thousands of dolphins were slaughtered each year for food and as a means of predator control. International outrage in the early 1980s (when graphic footage was taken by a U.S. videographer and aired around the world) almost shut down drive fisheries. Then the marine parks stepped in.
The marine park connection
In the late 1980s, marine parks and aquariums (including U.S. parks and the U.S. Navy) began purchasing live animals, paying many thousands of dollars for each animal. This made hunts profitable again. Although the number of animals killed each year has not returned to the high levels of the past, dozens and sometimes hundreds of dolphins and small whales die annually. (The government sets quotas for each region and species that are frequently violated).
At one time dolphins from drive hunts were imported into the United States. Before 1993, all the dolphins and small whales (such as false killer whales) imported into the United States from Japan were almost certainly captured in drive hunts. In 1993, a California marine park sought to import several false killer whales from Japan, and the same videographer who originally exposed the drives in the 1980s revealed how the animals were captured. The U.S. government had stipulated that the dolphins could only be imported if they had been captured "humanely" by purse-seine net (while less cruel than a drive, net captures are still traumatic). Because the manner of capture violated the conditions of the permit, the government prohibited the import. Since then, no whales or dolphins have been imported into the United States from Japan.
The World Association of Zoos and Aquariums (WAZA), the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA), and the Alliance of Marine Mammal Parks and Aquariums recently condemned the cruelty of the drive hunts. Going a step further, WAZA, which represents approximately 12,000 zoological facilities around the world, and the Alliance, which represents approximately 45 marine mammal facilities, have specifically urged their members not to acquire dolphins from these hunts, as such acquisition violates the code of ethics or sustainability standards for these associations. The AZA is the last holdout and should follow suit.
They eat dolphins, don't they?
Dolphin meat is a delicacy in some countries. It is also used as pet food and fertilizer. Japan kills as many as 18,000 Dall's porpoises (small, black-and-white porpoises found both in coastal and open ocean waters) each year for food in a directed harpoon fishery. (This is the largest-scale slaughter of a whale or dolphin species for food in the world today.) Furthermore, the Japanese continue to kill about 850 whales every year, supposedly for scientific research, but the meat is sold at market. Along with the species slaughtered in drive hunts, the Japanese also kill beaked whales: large, toothed whales about which little is known.
Humane issues aside, human consumption of dolphins is a bad idea. Recent scientific studies have shown that dolphin meat is seriously contaminated with PCBs, heavy metals, and other toxins. Dolphin meat exceeds contaminant levels set for human consumption by many governments.