Defend dolphins, not a ‘tradition’

In mid-January, somewhere between 250 and 500 dolphins were driven into the cove near Taiji, a small town in western Japan made famous in the award-winning film, “The Cove.” There, at least 100 of the dolphins were slaughtered for their meat. Others were packed up and sold to aquariums.

The dolphins are herded, butchered and sold every year, but this year, the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, together with CNN news uploaded videos of the dolphin hunt. The video, available online, is not for the faint of heart. Despite claims of humane killing methods, the video shows the fishermen hacking into the heads and backs of the panicked dolphins, then leaving them to bleed to death, turning the entire cove bright red.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe defended the practice in an interview with CNN and Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga told reporters at a news conference that marine mammals including dolphins were “very important water resources.” Suga insisted “Dolphin fishing is one of the traditional fishing forms of our country and is carried out appropriately in accordance with the law.”

Their argument that the force of tradition justifies the herding, capturing and slaughtering of dolphins is a flimsy one. Many past cultural practices, such as slavery, bordellos and beheading were stopped for ethical reasons. Tradition and culture are forces that change in accordance with new scientific understanding and evolving ethical standards. In addition, the Taiji hunt didn’t even become institutionalized on a large scale until 1969, so its roots are quite shallow.

Their argument that the slaughter adheres to principles of the law is equally questionable. Veterinarians and behavioral scientists who viewed the covertly recorded video contend that the killing method used in this year’s Taiji dolphin hunt would not be permitted in any slaughterhouse in the developed world.

Indeed, it is open to question whether the method would be acceptable if used to slaughter cows or other livestock in Japan.

Japanese law states that all methods of killing livestock should reduce the animals’ suffering as much as possible. The method of sending “fishermen” into the water with knives to stab the dolphins, clearly evident in the video, does not begin to meet that guideline. The desperate flailing of the wounded animals and the long time it takes them to die go against the accepted animal welfare standards employed in advanced societies.

Japan has already stopped invasive research and other harmful practices on species such as chimpanzees. Intelligent animal species have always held a special closeness to humans because of their intelligence, capacity for suffering and complex social relations. Dolphins are even known to commit suicide when distressed or confused.

Japan has another tradition, one of deep respect for nature and the creatures in it. That tradition would be much easier to defend. The dolphin hunt is an inhumane practice that should be stopped.

  • Pamela Marcum

    We foreign outsiders may cringe and cry for these beautiful sentient creatures, but true change can ONLY start “at home”. Words cannot express how grateful I am to see this article, published here, after having closely followed the tragic acts of brutality over the past month. The fact that this topic is being so openly discussed now, and given unprecedented visibility by the media, give me great hope that we have entered a new era in which such inhumane practices will be recognized for what they are and legally banned, no matter where they now occur.

  • Cassandra Jane

    Thank you. Very well written. Now lets pray the people of Japan take a stand and cry out for these beautiful mammals like the rest of the world are!!!

  • Heidi Marie

    These creatures deserve to have respect!! This act needs to be stopped!!!

  • Omar Mejia

    Great article! Hope Japan decide to abolish this practice. It has done incredible hurt to million of Japanese because of the horrible image that portraits to the world for Japanese culture and products

  • kathleen kozak

    For those who oppose this cruelty, I stand with you and agree. For those who feel this “tradition” should continue, I urge you to go to Taiji an witness it for yourself. As a medical doctor I plead with the Japanese people to think twice before consuming dolphin or whale meat. It is toxic, tainted with mercury, and your own scientists have tested the meat and recommended that children and pregnant women not eat it for fear of neurological damage. It is for your own good to stop consuming this and therefore there is no need for a hunt at all. Think about it, before you eat another piece, and thus become an accomplice to this tragic mistake that the fisherman of Taiji are committing every day. Save yourselves, and in doing so, save the dolphins.

  • Yvonne

    One of the reasons that there is limited footage of the actual killings is because the hunters are covering the killings with tarp now. Thus, blocking any “good” view of such barbaric slaughter. The volunteers from Sea Shephered Cove Guardians stream live of their hunt each day. It is deplorable to see the water in the cove turns red.

  • Sagi

    Sorry, you are factually incorrect. The dolphin slaughter took hold in 1969 and is hardly a tradition. So what is it really? It’s a money-maker for Japanese fisherman. In the short-term. In reality, there will be a massive economic backlash as the public internationally looks on in horror and steers clear of Japanese products — and not just the fish. Automobiles, electronics, travel. All will be tarnished with the blood of the dolphins. This is not antagonism towards the people of Japan, this is antagonism directed towards a specific sector of people in Japan: the fishermen, and the bureaucrats who support them. Our understanding of dolphins and their terror and pain and distress overshadows Mr.Shinzo Abe’s weak attempts to justify this economic outrage. We understand very, very well.

  • Marc Holloway

    You’ve shown great courage and honour to these beautiful intelegent creatures. I’ve been watching this horror unfold for many years and sickened by your countrymen with their actions.

  • Viivi Syrjä

    Thank you JT for this article. You give hope that the 39 fishermen in Taiji will stop the massacres and giving a bad name to the rest of Japan. My respect!

  • Lois Hatcher

    Well said Sagi. Also when was it ever a tradition to tear these beautiful animals from their families and sell them to captivity? Personaly I would not eat them as the toxins are so high it would be just like eating doses of poison. Just because it is a tradition it does not make it right. Between how Japan treats the dolphins, the whales and blue fin tuna I will no longer buy any products from Japan and encourage my friends to do likewise. When traveling I will gladly pay extra to NOT fly through Japan. I have Japanese relatives and they all think this is a disgusting portrayal of there beautiful culture.