Groups of Japanese fishermen killed dozens of dolphins during their annual dolphin hunt. According to Reuters, the bottlenose dolphins were driven into the shallow waters of the Taiji cove, many of which were subsequently killed.
The event is part of a yearly hunt, whereby the fishermen of Taiji – situated in the Higashimuro District of the western Wakayama Prefecture, in Japan – slaughter a selection of the detained dolphins for their meat and lucratively trade others to marine parks.
On Jan. 21, 2014, the fishermen used a series of boats and nets to maneuver around 30 dolphins into a killing region of Taiji cove. The dolphins were selected from a population of 500, which had been trapped in the cove over the weekend. The Taiji fisherman’s union indicates that an unprecedented number of dolphins were forced into the cove – much higher than previous years.
Hunters waded into the waters, many donning wet suits and snorkels, to tie the dolphins down and prevent their escape. Teams of between 40 and 60 local fishermen deployed nets to segregate the pod of bottlenose dolphins, with sub-groups dragging the dolphins by their dorsal fins into awaiting traps. According to the Sea Shepherd Society, the dolphins are then delivered to shallow waters, where the tarps are situated. Hidden away from the prying eyes of the media and on looking activists, the “prettiest” dolphins are selected.
Activist Melissa Sehgal, of the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, informed Reuters that metal rods were driven into the creatures’ spinal cords, before being left to “… bleed out, suffocate and die.” A representative of the Taiji fisherman’s union claims that they have implemented more humane slaughtering methods, which involves cutting the dolphins’ spines on the beach to kill the creatures more rapidly.
Although the Cove Guardians have witnessed over 50 dolphins being taken, the exact figure of dolphins killed and captured is yet to be divulged. The remaining bottlenose dolphins were set free.
Many Japanese citizens, within the local community, herald the occasion as a longstanding tradition. Proponents of the annual hunt equate it to killing other animals for meat. The mayor of Taiji, Kazutaka Sangen, claims that the fishermen are perfectly within their rights to kill the dolphins; others have sought to highlight that the dolphin hunt is legally accepted, with the government permitting a killing quota of over 550 bottlenose dolphins. Japanese officials indicate that the practice is not prohibited by international treaty and stipulate the bottlenose dolphins are not endangered.
All the while, the environmentalist group the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society has been streaming live footage of the hunt and tweeting updates on its progress; the group remains a staunch opponent of the Taiji fishermen’s actions. Sangen criticized the organization for exploiting the dolphin hunt to raise more funds and gain attention.
Meanwhile, an anonymous official offered his defense for the hunt, when speaking to French news agency Agence France-Presse. He criticized Caroline Kennedy’s recent words of disapproval, and invited the U.S. envoy to visit the region to fully appreciate how the dolphin hunt bolsters the local economy:
“I want her to come and visit so that she can understand how we make a living from it. Many fishermen make a living from the hunting, and many others also earn their living by working at food processing factories.”
The annual bottlenose dolphin hunt became a source of global controversy after release of the 2009 documentary film The Cove, which called into question Japanese hunting practices. The film demonstrated, graphically, the demise of dolphins herded into the cove and decreed the hunt an act of cruelty. Directed by Louie Psihoyos – a National Geographic photographer – the film came under fire for using video footage that was collected covertly, while other detractors criticized its creators for lack of objectivity.
Both U.S. and British ambassadors to Japan, along with environmental activists, have condemned the killing of dozens of bottlenose dolphins, on the grounds that it causes the marine mammals to experience suffering.
By James Fenner