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Japan's Taiji Fishermen Return to Infamous Cove for Annual Dolphin Hunt

Pasay, Philippines. 2nd September 2013 -- The systematic killings of dolphins and porpoises in Taiji, Japan prompted protesters from various animal rights group to hold a protest rally in front of the Japanese embassy in Pasay City. -- The annual killing in Taiji, Japan of dolphins and porpoises sparked a prayer protest in front of the Japanese Embassy in Pasay City, south of Manila. Earth Island Institute lead the prayer rally together with PAWS and PETA. [Photo by J Gerard Seguia ©Demotix]

Pasay, Philippines. 2 September 2013 — The systematic killings of dolphins and porpoises in Taiji, Japan prompted protesters from various animal rights group to hold a protest rally in front of the Japanese embassy in Pasay City, south of Manila. Earth Island Institute lead the prayer rally together  [Photo by J Gerard Seguia ©Demotix]

Once again, fishermen from the small Japanese town of Taiji have made headlines over their annual dolphin hunt, during which hundreds of the creatures are captured in a local cove to be slaughtered or sold into captivity. 

According to conservation society Sea Shepherd, about 250 bottlenose dolphins were rounded up this year in a secluded cove now infamous as the location of the hunt following the release of the 2010 movie “The Cove“.

Taiji fishermen, who take part in the hunt with permits from the Japanese government, defend the practice as part of long-held tradition and count the support of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who defended them in a recent CNN interview. The captured dolphins are either slaughtered for food or sold to marine mammal parks for thousands of US dollars.

But environmental activists oppose the hunt as cruel. The animals are killed using spears, knives and other weapons, creating a bloody scene as they thrash about in the red-stained water and struggle to escape. The Oceanic Preservation Society claims that more than 20,000 dolphins are slaughtered in Japan every year during the hunting season from September to May.

Not everyone in Japan are as keen as the Taiji fishermen and Prime Minister Abe are to defend the tradition. Japanese conservationists held a protest rally on January 24, 2014 to raise awareness of what was happening in Taiji. Activist Noriko Ikeda of Action for Marine Mammals told Raw Story that, in fact, most Japanese don't know about dolphin hunting. “It is extremely rare to find Japanese people who eat dolphins. The real problem is that hunt is driven by demand for live dolphins among aquariums to put on dolphin shows,” she said.

Japanese artist Yoko Ono, the widow of the Beatles’ singer John Lennon, wrote an open letter this year addressed to the fishermen of Taiji, pleading, “The way you are insisting on a big celebration of killing so many Dolphins and kidnapping some of them to sell to the zoos and restaurants at this very politically sensitive time, will make the children of the world hate the Japanese.”

The US ambassador to Japan, Caroline Kennedy, even jumped into the fray:

Some people in Japan considered the comment by Kennedy as meddling in the country's affairs. Observing such reactions, technology blogger Satoshi Nakajima wrote [ja]:

ケネディ大使のイルカ漁に体する発言を「内政干渉」と大騒ぎをしている人がいるが、彼女の発言を理解するには、イルカ漁やクジラ漁が米国人にとって、どんな意味があり、何を象徴するか、を理解する必要がある。[...]大半の日本人が、あれは野蛮な行為であり、私たちの子孫の時代になっても、世界中の海を鯨やイルカが自由に泳ぎ回る地球であって欲しいと望むのであれば、捕鯨もイルカ漁も禁止すべきだ。鯨やイルカが自分の食卓に並ぶことを望む日本人が沢山いるのであれば、話は違うが、すでにそんな時代は、日本にとってすら過去の話だと私は思う。外圧に屈するのではなく、日本人として「捕鯨とイルカ漁は野蛮なことだからもうやめる」という判断を自らする時が来ていると思う

There are people making a fuss about Caroline Kennedy's comment against Japan's dolphin fishing as “interference in domestic affairs”, but to understand where her comment comes from, we need to understand what whaling and dolphin fishing mean to Americans, and what such practices represent. [...] If most Japanese consider such practices as a barbaric act and if we wish the ocean to have whales and dolphins swimming freely around the world, we should ban whaling and dolphin fishing altogether. It would have been a different story if there were many Japanese who hope that whales and dolphins to be served on plates, however those days are gone. I think rather than giving in to external pressure, it's time for the Japanese to make our own decision to “stop more dolphin fishing and whaling because it barbaric”.

Twitter user Takao Setaka took a look at both sides of the argument:

I never wish to eat dolphins and whales, however, I don't think it's necessary for the state to ban fishing when there is a portion of local people who traditionally practice it as part of their lifestyle. Although, I also do not think that it's necessary to continue to fish just because it's a tradition.

Reading the post, another blogger, good2nd, argued that treating the topic as a cultural issue does not advance the discussion:

It's wrong to label a culture as cruel, but at the same time, you can't say, “It's not cruel because it's culture”, either. Even as people insist on culture, we eat less and less. 

Dolphin meat is considered a delicacy in some regions, but the culinary luxury can come at a high cost. Taiji's coast, where the dolphins are found, is reported to contain high levels of mercury, and residents in Taiji had mercury levels which were 10 times higher than the national average, according to a study conducted by the Health Sciences University of Hokkaido and Daiichi University's College of Pharmaceutical Studies. Mercury levels of 50 ppm in the human body can cause nerve damage.

Dolphins, unlike whales, do not fall under the protection of the International Whaling Convention. Recently, India's Central Zoo Authority banned dolphin captivity in the country, stating that they are “highly intelligent and sensitive” by nature and ought to be seen as “non-human persons.” This is because dolphins and whales are self-aware, demonstrate individuality and are highly intelligent. Dolphins are even known to recognize themselves in mirrors, and are certainly aware that they and those around them are being massacred.

The post was edited by L. Finch and Keiko Tanaka

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