Who kills those dolphins?

International dolphin activists campaigning in Taiji are often the target of verbal abuse by dolphin hunting advocates. Using huge loudspeakers they demand activists leave Japan. Such behavior is both ridiculous and childish so much so it can hardly be called a protest, and I can’t help but think that it has only strengthened the activists’ belief and conviction to free dolphins, and does not have any impact on having them leave Taiji. However, while respectfully disregarding the advocates behavior I feel I must none the less, present a few reasons why dolphin activists should leave Taiji.

Before I present my opinions, I must point out the misconceptions regarding where the dolphin hunting actually takes place in Japan. Currently, the number of dolphins being captured and killed by drive hunting methods in Wakayama Prefecture constitutes about only 1/10 (and in the past even less) of the total number in Japan.

The conventional method of dolphin hunting in Japan is the hand-held harpoon method, and it is carried out far offshore where nobody can see what is happening, even with binoculars. Dolphin hunting is still being carried out in Hokkaido. In the Tohoku region (mainly in Iwate Prefecture), devastated by the tsunami at one point, dolphin hunting is rapidly recovering and is now up to 3/4 of the previous rate *1.

Taiji became the subject of the film “The Cove” simply as a result of the method by which the hunt is carried out, in a small bay, where it can easily be spotted by people. However, greater tragedies are undeniably carried out in other locations, not in Taiji. We must keep that foremost in our minds.

What brought the current activists to Taiji is based on lack of information, misinformation and a focus on the captive trade of dolphins, made by those opposed to the dolphin hunt overseas. In other words, there is a common misconception caused by the media who have misrepresented the situation by promulgating the notion that dolphins are primarily hunted in Taiji for food. However, this is not the case. The proposition that the tradition of eating dolphins must be preserved is merely the dolphin hunting advocates averting the real issue.

The style of dolphin hunting has drastically changed, starting in the last half of the 1960’s. The mayor at the time tried to promote Taiji as a whale-hunting town and built the Taiji Whale Museum, offering people the chance to interact with dolphins and hoping to use it to benefit local economic development. It functions as a dolphin training facility so that dolphins can be resold domestically and overseas for dolphin shows. As of 2013, Taiji is the only place in the world that has such a facility to produce captive dolphins in this way *2.

In order to capture docile, “attractive” dolphins, who take to humans easily, requires the capture of many dolphins. Drive hunting is not only the most effective, but the only way to capture dolphins without wounding them (which would render them inappropriate for sale). Therefore, fishermen have to capture and currently kill, many dolphins in order to secure even far fewer to resell to aquariums. Taiji was a late starter in the business of dolphin drive hunting. It introduced methods from Izu in earnest and in 1969 the Taiji Whale Museum was completed.

As a result of this economic development in Taiji, the demand for dolphin meat was artificially created. The consumption of dolphins is neither a strong local tradition nor culture however dolphin, pilot whale and other small cetacean species have been opportunistically hunted  throughout Taiji’s very long history and culture of cetacean hunting.

Dolphin consumption is merely a by-product of the main purpose of the drives – that is, to meet the demand created by aquariums. So to speak, it is just “small change” compared to the business generated by aquariums. The hunt will never be abandoned and therefore appealing to the town’s people to not eat dolphin falls on deaf ears.

In light of these facts, it is the abolition of aquariums that our activities should focus on. In this regard, there is a need to educate the public. The most effective method would be to encourage the public not to patronize facilities with dolphin shows. It would undoubtedly take time but by no means would it be a wasted course of action. In fact, a successful example of this can be found in South Korea where, after lengthy discussions with intellectuals, government officials and civic groups, plans for a dolphin facility were shelved*3.

International dolphin activists in Taiji who demonstrate, monitor and, in particular, act like spies, in the eyes of locals. are, regrettably, misdirected. It is true that monitoring is necessary in Taiji but it has to be said that such actions only anger outsiders and the media and have a profoundly negative effect. This is particularly so considering that the hunt contributes to tax revenue. If it is dolphin activists carrying out the monitoring it goes without saying that it will be met with a negative reaction.

Instead of Taiji, activists should concentrate on the 45 places throughout Japan where aquariums (dolphinariums) can be found, as well as on international facilities. There is a supply  of dolphins simply because there is a demand. It is not a matter of culture or ethics. It is simply business. The dolphin hunt is sustained by governmental support via taxes and live sales of dolphins. International environmental groups should focus their energies on discouraging the public from visiting facilities featuring dolphin shows. Solving the problem lies in clearly identifying the root of the problem.


*1: According to the Fisheries Agency (2013-2014 Annual Whale Catch Quota) the number of dolphins captured in 2012 was 16,497. Of this number, 2,013 dolphins were captured in Wakayama Prefecture in dolphin drive hunts. http://elsaenc.net/wp-content/uploads/AnnualCatchQuotas2013-2014_j.pdf

*2: Plans were shelved in Ulsan, South Korea, due to pressure from civic groups, for a whale interaction facility measuring 20 meters by 30 meters (with a depth of 3 meters) on 3,500 square meters of land http://japanese.yonhapnews.co.kr/headline/2011/02/11/0200000000AJP20110211001100882.HTML

*3: “Animal Abuse…Seoul, Dolphin Show Shelved” = Korea ChoongAng Daily (May 10th, 2012) http://japanese.joins.com/article/886/151886.html


This article was translated by Katrina Larsen and Yukiko Hosono Chavez. Thank you.

Action for Marine Mammals representative, Toshiaki Morioka