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:
Deeply concerned by inhumaneness of drive hunt dolphin killing. USG opposes drive hunt fisheries.
— キャロライン・ケネディ駐日米国大使 (@CarolineKennedy) January 18, 2014
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]:
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:
私はクジラやイルカを食べたいとは思わないが、伝統的に生活の一部としてきた人たちが漁をおこなうことを国として禁じる必要性は感じない。逆に、伝統だからというだけの理由で漁をする必要性もまたないとは思うが。 / “Life is bea…” http://t.co/6Mw3RJKZFT
— SETAKA Takao (@twtko) 2014, 1月 28
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:
— good2nd (@good2nd) 2014, 1月 27
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.