Fishermen in Taiji, Wakayama Prefecture, vowed Wednesday to continue their dolphin hunt, despite a pledge by zoos and aquariums not to buy animals caught with the controversial method.
“We will never stop it,” Yoshifumi Kai of the local fisheries cooperative told reporters.
The news conference came a week after Japan’s zoos and aquariums voted to stop using dolphins caught by the so-called “drive hunt” method, as demanded by the World Association of Zoos and Aquariums (WAZA).
Some dolphins are captured alive and sold to aquariums, fetching about ¥1 million ($8,300) each.
The vote was prompted by WAZA’s move to suspend the Japanese Association of Zoos and Aquariums (JAZA) last month over the issue.
WAZA regards drive hunt fishing — where pods of cetaceans are herded into a bay by a wall of sound before being butchered — as “cruel”, a charge local fishermen reject.
“It’s unclear which part of the drive hunt WAZA considers cruel,” Kai said.
“We used to harpoon dolphins but that’s several decades ago. Now we sever the spinal cord in a moment and there is not much blood.”
Shuichi Matsumoto, head of another local fisherman’s group, said they “have not broken any rules,” adding the group wants to continue the tradition and pass it on to future generations.
Taiji came to worldwide attention after the Oscar-winning 2009 documentary “The Cove” showed pods of the animals forced into a bay and slaughtered with knives, in a mass killing that turned the water red with blood.
Animal rights activists continue to protest in the town, despite hostility from locals who say they are victims of anti-Japanese bias.
Many of the dolphins are butchered for food, but campaigners claim there is insufficient demand for their relatively unpopular meat to make the hunt economically worthwhile.
They charge that the high prices live animals fetch when sold to aquariums and dolphin shows is the only thing that sustains the hunt.
Despite the overwhelming vote last week by JAZA to abandon the Taiji hunt, five aquariums are reportedly considering leaving the organization so they can continue to source dolphins from the town.
However, the vote has left aquariums with the problem of how to continue to stock their facilities — only 12 to 13 percent of dolphins at Japanese aquariums are captive-bred, compared with 70 percent in the United States, according to JAZA.