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Taiji, Japan – It’s that time of year again. Japanese fishermen have cornered a large group of bottlenose dolphins into the shallows of a cove in Taiji and killed at least 30 so far. Every year the fishermen of Taiji drive hundreds of dolphins into a cove, select some for capture, release some and kill the rest. The dolphin hunting season runs annually from September to March. Taiji is regarded as the spiritual home of Japan’s coastal whaling industry. The first hunts took place in the early 1600s, but the industry went into decline after the introduction of a global ban on commercial whaling in 1986. Consequently, dolphins and other small cetaceans are not covered by the ban. These days Japan is permitted to catch up to 20,000 small cetaceans, including pilot whales and porpoises. The meat from a single bottlenose fetches around 50,000 yen ($500) per kilo. Aquariums are prepared to pay much more for live specimens provided they meet the grade.

For the annual hunt, dolphin fishermen bang metal poles together beneath the water to confuse the dolphins’ sonar before herding them into shallow water, where they are left for up to several days before being taken to the cove to be slaughtered. Fishermen waiting in the shallow waters by the shore, wet suits with masks and snorkels wade into the shallows and wrestle and beat the dolphins into submission before tying their tails with ropes to stop them from escaping.

This year, before the killing began, fishermen pulled a tarpaulin in front of the cove to prevent activists and reporters from photographing the slaughter. It was not enough to hide the large pool of blood from seeping from under the tarpaulin.

Sea Shepherd Conservation Society activist Melissa Sehgal explained to Reuters how the killing is done: “A metal rod is stabbed into their spinal cord, where they were left to bleed out, suffocate and die.”  This comes “after a traumatic four days held captive in the killing cove”. Most of the dolphins are separated from their family groups and are either butchered or sold off to aquariums.

The actions have generated international condemnation each year. This year the Japanese artist and peace campaigner Yoko Ono vociferously called for an end to the killing. In an open letter to the people of Taiji she stated “I understand how you must feel about the one-sidedness of the west to be angry at your traditional capture and slaughter of dolphins,” but she added that the slaughter was “harming Japan’s international reputation and gave countries…an excuse to speak ill of Japan”. She warned that “the future of Japan and its safety depends on many situations, but what you do with dolphins now can create a very bad relationship with the whole world.”

Both the US and British ambassadors to Japan have strongly criticised the action. “The UK opposes all forms of dolphin and porpoise drives; they cause terrible suffering. We regularly raise [the issue] with Japan,” said the British Ambassador to Japan, Timothy Hitchens, in a tweet on Monday. Caroline Kennedy, the US envoy to Tokyo, has also come out strongly against the hunt. Her tweet read: “Deeply concerned by inhumaneness of drive hunt dolphin killing.

Japan, however, maintains that killing dolphins is not banned under any international treaty and that the animals are not listed as endangered. Reuters also reported that Yoshinobu Nisaka, the governor of Wakayama prefecture where Taiji is located, rejected Kennedy’s concerns stating that “Dietary culture varies and it is the wisdom of civilization to mutually respect other standpoints unless the world faces a lack of resources”. But according to the World’s Health Organisation dolphin meat is extremely toxic, in fact 5000 times more than the acceptable level.

Activists have also pointed out that the dolphin hunt is being done under the guise of cultural tradition when in reality it is for pure profit. These hunts, claims Ric O’Barry, director of Earth Island’s dolphin project, only began in earnest during the last couple of decades primarily to supply aquariums with wild dolphins and sell dolphin meat at top dollar in Japanese fish markets.

Sea Shepherd have maintained that throughout Japan 176 mammals have been slaughtered this season already.

Adam Cruise

Adam Cruise is a published author and writer specialising in Africa, Europe and it’s environment. He travels extensively throughout the two continents commenting, documenting and highlighting many of the environmental concerns that face the regions. He is a well-known travel, animal ethic and environmental writer having his articles published in a variety of magazines and newspapers. The rich and varied cultural and historical aspects of both continents have also fascinated Cruise and are evident in much of his writings.

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