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.

Bottlenose dolphins are the most commonly caught dolphin species in the Taiji dolphin drive
Bottlenose dolphins are the most commonly caught dolphin species in the Taiji dolphin drive

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 CoveOn 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.

Ric O'Barry with dolphin meat for sale, but labeled as "Whale" meat, in Japanese Supermarket
Ric O’Barry with dolphin meat for sale in Japanese Supermarket

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.

The reality of the Taiji dolphin drive. Photo courtesy of Oceanic Preservation Society
The reality of the Taiji dolphin drive. Photo courtesy of Oceanic Preservation Society
taiji dolphins

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:

  1. Sign the petition. Sponsored by Earth Island Institute, this petition is currently over 750,000 signatures strong.  Sign your name and appeal to the U.S. government to urge Japan to revoke permits that allow for dolphin slaughter.
  2. Like” it and “Share” it on Facebook: Facebook isn’t just about updating the world about what you ate for breakfast – it’s a place to make a stand and reach a lot of people in the process! Start out by “Liking” Ric O’Barry’s Dolphin Project Page and then “Share” daily updates (like this one) to your own newsfeed!
  3. #tweet4taiji: Social media takes ocean advocacy to the next level! Use the hashtag #tweet4taiji on your Twitter or Instagram accounts to join the conversation and also raise awareness about dolphin drives.
  4. Send an email: While it may seem slightly old fashioned, sending an email or writing a letter is still an important way to voice your concerns! Better yet, throw an email writing party and send to the following:
  1. Host a screening of “The Cove” or “Blackfish”: If you have a DVD player, projector and screen, you could host your very own backyard screening of these incredibly eye-opening and advocacy oriented documentaries for your friends and family.  Have everyone pitch in to cover the cost of the screening, and let the education go to work!  While you may actually have to move away from your computer for this one, you can at least purchase the film online!