Taiji Dolphin Hunt:
Public Concern and Animal Issues

September 10, 2021Lu Shegay

Introduction

Japan is an island country in East Asia, which is located in the northwest Pacific Ocean, thus having open access to the waters. For an island country, fishing and aquaculture are undoubtedly the major types of industry in the country. Besides supplying the local communities, Japan is also practicing various types of commercial businesses, which include fishing. One tends to think about fishing as a harmless and innocent activity, however, fishing causes caught aquatic animals’ suffering, and it was scientifically proven that fish feel fear and pain, not to mention marine mammals, extremely intelligent creatures. Fishing by the nature of the word does not only apply to small-sized animals. Depending on the certain country’s historical background and cultural features, fishing of particular animals can be common in one part of the world. Dolphin hunting is one of the common practices in Japan, and it is based on driving dolphins and other small-sized cetaceans into a small bay where they are either killed for their meat or captured for the subsequent sale to entertainment facilities.

"Gray Dolphin on Blue Water" by Magda Ehlers from Pexels

Dolphin slaughter

Taiji dolphin drive hunt is the world’s biggest type of hunt. It is known that the Japanese government quota allows more than 2000 cetaceans to be slaughtered or captured. Approximately 22 000 small cetaceans are killed every year using the methodology of drive hunting in Japan. It is considered that Taiji dolphin slaughter has a long history with whaling in Japan that has been conducted this practice for centuries and which raised a lot of concerns both from animal rights activists and international law associations. Currently, Japan is withdrawn from the International Convention for the Regulation of Whaling.


This type of hunting is seasonal and starts every year on September 1st and ends on the last day of February. During 2016-2017, the allowed quota for capturing dolphins was 1820 individuals, however, now the quote is higher. According to the Japanese Fisheries Research Agency, 1623 dolphins were caught in Wakayama Prefecture in 2007 for the purposes of human consumption or selling them to dolphinariums for entertainment purposes - the majority of them were caught in Taiji.


As for the species, during the 2015-2016 season, 439 dolphins were killed in total during the drive hunt. Among them, 46 Bottlenose dolphins, 198 Risso’s dolphins, 144 Striped dolphins, 51 Pilot whales have been killed. In total, 91 dolphins have been captured for subsequent sale. Among them, 84 Bottlenose dolphins, 6 Risso’s dolphins, and 1 Pilot whale have been caught. The study also shows that 102 dolphins have been released.


“The numbers so far suggest several important trends. One is that the dolphin drive hunts are turning more and more from dolphins slaughtered for meat to dolphins caught for captivity. Taiji has become a major source of captive dolphins for aquariums all over the world, and instead of just a handful of dolphins being sold, now Taiji is selling hundreds of dolphins each year. As a trained dolphin can be bought on the world market for as much as US$150 000 or more, the importance of the captivity trade to the Taiji dolphin hunters is obvious, with many countries (such as China & the Middle East) building new aquariums. However, the catch for captivity is still a bit lower than in the past years, which may reflect fewer bottlenose dolphins being captured that are “prime” for captivity (usually young female bottlenose dolphins) or that there are fewer bottlenose dolphins in the ocean to catch. (Last season, by contrast, only 41 bottlenose dolphins were kept for captivity, but a number of other species including spotted dolphins, were kept as well.)”

"Monochrome Photo of Dolphins Underwater" by Taryn Elliott from Pexels

Animal issues

It would be silly not to mention that dolphins are suffering while being caught, killed, or sent to aquariums/dolphinariums. When caught, dolphins were initially killed by slitting their throat, but this method of slaughter has been banned by the government. Currently, they are killed by driving a metal pin into the neck of the dolphin. It has been proven by plenty of studies that cetaceans, including dolphins, suffer in captivity, are separated from their families, are forced to perform for food, and experience extreme stress in tiny tanks.


Here are certain facts about dolphin hunts:

  • “The Japanese hunts are the biggest single slaughter of whales and dolphins in the world involving drive and hand-held harpoon hunts. It has been documented that some dolphins have taken more than thirty minutes to die.

  • The dolphin hunters make approximately $32,000 USD for each live dolphin they capture. These figures can skyrocket from $32,000 USD up to $250,000 USD for a trained captive dolphin.

  • In the wild, dolphins can live into their 40s and 50s―some have been documented to be more than 90 years old. But more than 80 percent of captive dolphins whose ages could be determined died before they turned 20.”


Dolphins that are caught during the Taiji dolphin drive hunt - and not only - die oftentimes due to shock, injuries, and stress. Many of them also die during transportation to the entertainment facilities.


Taiji dolphin drive hunt and other types of dolphin hunting raise a lot of concerns from the public and animal rights activists. The practice itself is considered cruel, especially after the public witnessed the released footage from the activists. A lot of campaigns and projects have been initiated to raise awareness about the tormenting practice of catching and killing dolphins.


Slaughtering dolphins is leading to a lot of animal and environmental issues. The ocean ecosystem has a balanced network of symbiotic life, each species of aquatic animals is dependent on one another, and so removing large predators especially can affect and even destroy the ocean balance and marine health. Unlike some other aquatic animals, dolphins are among the marine mammals, whose reproduction process is slow, which makes it difficult to restore the population. Additionally, consuming dolphin meat has raised a lot of serious health concerns because of the toxins stored in the fatty tissue of these animals and mercury contamination.


At present, the Taiji dolphin hunt is not prohibited in the country. There are certain ways to urge the public and the government to end this senseless practice of killing dolphins for human needs. Refrain from visiting aquariums/dolphinariums/circuses and any shows that involve the cruel treatment of dolphins in the field of entertainment. Education is another important step to spread awareness about the importance to end the exploitation of animals.

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