National / Crime & Legal

Plaintiffs ask Wakayama court to halt permits for Taiji dolphin hunts, citing Japan's animal cruelty laws

AP

The Wakayama District Court began hearing arguments Friday over whether dolphin hunting violates animal cruelty laws.

The plaintiffs are asking the court to stop the permits from being issued.

Wakayama Gov. Yoshinobu Nisaka issues the permits for the town of Taiji, where the hunts have drawn protests. Taiji is also known for its centuries-old whaling traditions.

The 2009 Oscar-winning documentary “The Cove” showed the town’s hunts, where dolphins were chased into a cove and bludgeoned to death, turning the waters blood red. In recent years, they changed their hunting method to suffocation.

The plaintiffs, a former Taiji resident and activist Ren Yabuki, and supporters of the case, say the killings remain traumatic and painful, despite the new method.

Wakayama conservation official Takashi Uede declined comment on the case but stressed that the prefecture believes the hunts follow the law.

The case does not demand monetary damages but could set a precedent in contesting the legality of the killings, according to Takashi Takano, the lawyer for the plaintiffs. “If these people can’t contest the permit, then who can,” he said.

Taiji officials and fishermen have defended the hunt as tradition and say eating dolphin meat is no different from eating beef or chicken. However, the hunts are also lucrative in that some dolphins are sold into captivity at aquariums and marine shows.

The government stands behind commercial whaling and is pulling out of the International Whaling Commission. Whalers are making plans to resume commercial hunting in July, for the first time in three decades.

Taiji is expected to be one of the Pacific coastal towns joining the whaling fleet.