The Japanese government recently said that the annual bottlenose dolphin slaughter done in a Japanese cove is lawful amidst the growing criticisms from the West. This yearly event is the highlight of the Taiji community’s dolphin hunting season and the Taiji Cove is the place for all of these controversies. Environmental activists are diligently monitoring the situation by tweeting and live streaming about this annual slaughter of dolphins.
Despite these criticisms, many Japanese believe that this is a tradition and custom that must be kept. Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said that dolphin hunting is one of Japan’s traditional forms of fishing and these are properly done under existing laws and regulations. Suga added that dolphins are not covered by the International Whaling Commission control.
Taiji Mayor Kazutaka Sangen said that their fishermen are just “exercising their fishing rights.” He accused environmental and activist groups of using the issue in order to raise funds and attract global attention for themselves. Local authorities said that what happened to the dolphins is no different from the slaughter of other animals for meat.
Local fishermen of Taiji echoed the same sentiments and said that this event is part of their village tradition and called those people and foreign critics pushing a stop to this tradition as hypocrites.
The local government of Japan also criticized the 2009 Oscar-nominated documentary film The Cove, where the film shows the bloody slaughter of dolphins in the Taiji Cove. The Japanese local authorities said that the film is distorted and biased and just selects shots of dolphins being killed meant to attract public outrage.
Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, an environmentalist group, is now doing everything to create public awareness about the dolphin slaughter in Japan. The group has already provided live stream shots of bottlenose dolphins bobbing up and down the water obviously trying to avoid their human hunters. According to the environmental group, some of the dolphins in the cove are already bloodied and injured from their struggles.
This annual event of fishermen from Taiji, western Wakayama prefecture, entails them to drive hundreds of dolphins into the cove, trap them into smaller nets where fishermen and divers with snorkeling masks select which of them will be sold to marine parks, killed for their meat, or those which will be released back into the sea.
On Tuesday, based on estimates, around 30 dolphins from a group of 200 trapped in the cove since Friday were herded using boats and nets. They were then led into an area of the Taiji Cove where they were slaughtered. However, before the killing started, some fishermen pulled tarpaulin covers in front of the killing area to prevent activists and news reporters from witnessing the event. Moments later, the water underneath the tarpaulins turned red indicating that the dolphins bled to death.
According to Melissa Sehgal of the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, in describing how the dolphins were killed, “A metal rod was stabbed into their spinal cord, where they were left to bleed out, suffocate and die.” Out of the 200 trapped dolphins, more than 50 were selected to be sold to aquariums and marine parks while those that were not killed or sold were released back to the sea, according to the activist group.
Western countries like the U.K. and the U.S. oppose such practice of slaughtering dolphins. According to the British Ambassador to Japan, Timothy Hitchens in a tweet on Monday said that his government “…opposes all forms of dolphin and porpoise drives.” While the U.S. Ambassador to Tokyo, Caroline Kennedy expressed the same concern and tweeted the “inhumaneness of drive hunt dolphin killing.” Drive hunt pertains to trapping the dolphins in a cove where later they are killed, sold or set free.
The rest of the world may view dolphin slaughter as a cruel way of getting food. However, the Japanese are one in saying that what they are doing is lawful and in accordance with their tradition and culture.
By Roberto I. Belda
The Asahi Shimbun