Every year, thousands of dolphins are slaughtered along the coast of Japan in brutal drive hunts. The majority of dolphins caught in these hunts are butchered and their meat is sold in restaurants and supermarkets throughout the country. To fetch a higher price, and simultaneously tout itself as a more premium product, the meat is oftentimes purposely mislabeled as “whale” meat. A smaller percentage of the animals are spared from death, and instead sold to aquariums and marine parks in countries such as China, Taiwan, Egypt and the Philippines.
Drive hunts, also known as drive fisheries, refer to the practice of herding dolphins and small whales into coves where the animals are subsequently slaughtered or, more rarely, spared alive to be sold into captivity. While these hunts went on for years outside of the public eye, the rise of social media, revealing documentaries, covert video recordings and highly publicized protests have brought international attention and outcry to the issue of drive hunting.
September 1st marked the beginning of the annual dolphin drive hunt in Taiji, Japan – an eight month long killing spree made infamous in the 2009 award-winning documentary The Cove. On average, the Taiji dolphin drive will result in the death of over 1,000 dolphins and the capture of 200 dolphins for the captivity trade.
Although the powerful Japan Fisheries Agency maintains that the yearly Taiji dolphin drive is an important part of Japan’s “food culture”, the drive itself is fueled primarily through the profits from sales to the multi-million dollar marine mammal captivity industry. A dolphin slaughtered for meat, for example, fetches around $600 on the market, while those destined for aquariums or marine parks can be sold for up to $300,000.
Unfortunately, outside of individual country laws, there are no international protections for these animals. The International Whaling Commission, for example, does not manage dolphin or porpoise species, only large, baleen species such as humpback whales. Countries that partake in dolphin drives set their own quotas and manage their own industries.
Educating the public, particularly the local public, about the realities and environmental impacts of dolphin drives is therefore an important first step towards ending the needless slaughter. The fact that dolphin meat is highly contaminated with mercury, in some cases exceeding the Japanese Ministry of Health’s recommended levels by 5,000 times, should be evidence enough that dolphin meat is unsuitable for human consumption.
The real change in Taiji, though, will come when we are able to put a stop to the marine mammal captivity trade. In 2002, for example, Pacific Whale Foundation was an instrumental part of banning marine mammal captivity throughout Maui County. U.S. law also now prohibits the importation of dolphins from Taiji for captivity purposes.
Ric O’Barry, the longtime dolphin trainer turned anti-captivity activist, has been a leader in raising awareness about the Taiji dolphin slaughter. O’Barry’s annual pilgrimage to the town of Taiji coincided with this year’s start to the dolphin drive, and he spent the past weekend presenting hunt photos to the U.S. Embassy in Japan, staging beachside protests in Taiji and meeting with the local Taiji town council to discuss alternatives to the dolphin hunt.
In addition, as the first dolphin hunting boats launched on Monday, O’Barry and his comrades across the world celebrated Save Japan Dolphin Day 2014, an international day of action that serves to protest the dolphin drive and the marine mammal captivity industry that ultimately fuels the drive.
As of day two, the dolphin boats have come back empty handed.
The good news is, you don’t have to be in Japan to help make a difference for the dolphins! Here are 5 easy ways to be a part of the solution, without leaving your computer: