Dolphins are igniting a well-known debate in Japan, as news reports are trickling in that they are being captured in the start of a traditional annual Japanese hunt that is becoming a lightning rod of contention between cultural practices and environmentalists.
Taiji Cove is the hotspot where an annual dolphin hunt takes place, where fishermen corral hundreds of dolphins into a secluded bay, choosing a select few for sale and the rest to kill for their meat for human consumption. The cultural practice of killing dolphins has ignited a familiar debate that extends well beyond Japanese waters. According to U.S. conservationists, there have already been upwards of 250 bottlenose dolphins “…driven into Taiji’s infamous killing cove.”
Since last Friday, the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society have begun flagging the events in Taiji cove that have been live-streamed and described on Twitter in visceral detail. According to CNN, a few of their posted updates included describing the dolphins as “panicked, frightened, and fatigued,” as well as the fishermen as “killers” who are tearing the pods of dolphins apart.
The cultural tradition of the Japanese dolphin hunt was portrayed in “The Cove,” an Oscar-nominated documentary a few years ago, painting scenes of a bloody massacre of dolphins, much to the detriment of the Taiji dolphin fishery. The dolphins’ debate has ignited since then and shows no signs of slowing down for the dolphin fisheries in Japan.
The intensely negative media focus on the Taiji fishermen coming from the documentary caused the Wakayama Prefecture to issue a statement on the defense, that they are in fact abiding by their fishing activities in full according with the national and prefectural governments, and that their fisheries industry has become a target of continued “psychological harassment” additionally they feel targeted by “aggressive” organizations whose goal is to protect animals.
The Bottlenose Dolphin
The bottlenose dolphins at the center of the Japanese hunt debate are one of the most widely known and well-liked ocean marine mammals in existence, both in aquariums and out in the ocean. Their capabilities in interacting with humans, their outgoing nature as well as a high level of intelligence are several of the reasons why they have been widely embraced by the public.
The dolphins’ high intelligence has been noted and are claimed to even be the “world’s second most intelligent animals,” second to humans. Based on MRI scans of dolphin brains, research has discovered that dolphins have a capability for self-awareness and, according to Discovery News, the capability of processing complex emotions.
In aquariums, dolphins have wowed audiences for decades with their exceptional ability to follow tricks and perform aerial tricks in tandem with other dolphins. In the military, dolphins have also been employed to track and find humans, as well as detect explosives and follow complex instructions from their handlers. Dolphins have also been the subject of many movies, one of the most popular ones including Flipper, produced back in 1996, and Dolphin Tale, an award-winning film produced in 2011. Their exposure in documentaries and movies have served to popularize the good natured species among the general public.
Currently, the contentious debate ignited over the dolphins held captive in Japan’s waters have served to highlight a polarized issue that remains unresolved to this day.
By Joscelyne Yu