February 18, 2010
The sunlight glints off a dolphin's back as it leaps through the waves. A moment later, another animal is airborne in a joyful cartwheel. Then another. A pod is swimming through the cove—a majestic sight.
But then, a motor starts up. Men shout. There is chaos. And suddenly, the water stains red.
A tragic tradition
In bloodbaths hard to imagine, fishermen in port towns such as Taiji, Japan, slaughter hundreds of bottlenose dolphins, Risso's dolphins, false killer whales, or pilot whales at a time. They kill them for meat and because they consider them competition for fish; they also select a few to send to marine parks and aquaria.
What is a drive fishery?
Once the fishermen locate a pod of animals, they begin herding them 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, getting into the water and moving through the pod, stabbing the animals to death. The fishermen may set some live animals aside and remove them from the water using slings or stretchers. The animals destined for slaughter may be hauled out onto land with cranes, often still conscious. The cruelty is atrocious.
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.
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. 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 U.S. from Japan.
The World Association of Zoos and Aquariums, the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, and the Alliance of Marine Mammal Parks and Aquariums have 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.
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 each year for food in a directed harpoon fishery. Furthermore, the Japanese continue to kill about 850 whales every year, supposedly for scientific research, but the meat is sold at market. Finally, the Japanese also kill beaked whales, large, toothed whales about whom little is known.
Humane issues aside, human consumption of dolphins is a bad idea. 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.
You can help
Many caring people around the world are campaigning to bring an end to these particularly violent hunts. Please donate to help shut down drive fisheries and other forms of wildlife abuse, and then call on Yahoo! Japan to stop profiting from selling the products of them.