A dolphin hunt was held at a cove by Japanese fishermen exercising their traditional right to kill a designated number of the animals. Each year Japan releases a quota during the annual dolphin hunting season between September and March. This year’s quota by the Wakayama Prefectural Government is a little above two thousand small porpoises and dolphins, among which 557 bottlenose dolphins were included. On Tuesday January 21 the fishermen slaughtered a number of dolphins in the Taiji cove. The catch that day was reported to be less than one hundred animals.
The technique used by the fishermen to drive the dolphins towards land by making clanking noises on the side of their vessels is said to be hundreds of years old. The animals become disorientated, making it easy for the fisherman to spread nets out to pen them in one area. Left overnight the dolphins are more restful in the following morning after the stress of being captured. During the ensuing days, captured animals are culled or released.
Like whales, bottlenose dolphins have been hunted for centuries for their meat and oil. However, whereas most of the world has ceased hunting whales and dolphins, Japan is the leading country in the world when it comes to catching dolphins for food. Porpoises, known as small dolphins, are also widely eaten in Japan. Dolphin meat reportedly tastes similar to liver or venison, however there are concerns that the meat contains high levels of mercury. A report in 2008 indicated that dolphin meat could have as much as 16 times the accepted level of mercury.
The release of a documentary in 2009 called “The Cove,” raised the public awareness of the traditional hunt in Japan. Nominated for an Oscar the film’s success means that the news of the recent dolphin hunt held at the cove will ring familiar with the public and again draw attention to the plight of the dolphins. Environmental and animal rights activists have been concerned for years about the Taiji Cove dolphin hunt and having concentrated on alerting international media to the fishermen’s seasonal activities. The pressure from such groups led to changes in the way in which the animals are killed, progress towards shortening their suffering and making death instantaneous.
The Wakayama Prefecture has been vocal about the amount of irritation the interest of foreign animal protection groups has caused by publicizing their own grievances about the annual hunt. In an effort to celebrate the area’s association with the dolphins, Taiji proposed developing an educational marine park in which visitors could swim with the dolphins. Due to open in five years’ time, the proposed park is to be composed of 69 acres. In this manner both views of the purpose of dolphins would be represented either in the viewing pools or in the restaurants. The bloody dolphin hunt held at the cove in Taiji is not only the site for killing porpoises and bottlenose dolphins, one of the most charming of the species and often present in marine park entertainment shows, but also the site of the battle between cultural differences.
By Persephone Abbott