Just in case you didn’t already know, I absolutely love dolphins and whales. I love their intelligence, their creativeness and their clear zest for life.
So you can imagine my horror after stumbling across The Cove this time last year and discovering that these wonderful animals are actually hunted in some parts of the world. I’ve always had an interest in Japan; I love sushi and used to watch a lot of anime when I was younger, but never once had I heard of Taiji and the dolphin drive season which takes place there.
If you’re not someone who can stomach watching a real life documentary of dolphins being tortured and either killed or captured – and I really don’t blame you – let me explain to you what Taiji means for dolphins during the months between September and March every year.
What Is A Drive Hunt?
Drive hunts are a barbaric hunting practice to collect animals – dolphins in this case – into one huge group to slaughter and torture for consumption or entertainment purposes.
In Taiji, Japan, the drive hunt method which is used involves multiple sailing vessels setting off out into the water surrounding Taiji and pushing any passing pod of dolphins further into a small cove using large metal poles which are dipped into the water and hit with a hammer.
Dolphins and other cetaceans are sound orientated creatures – they communicate through various whistles and clicks which can carry for miles and miles through the ocean. This banging of poles creates a huge wall of sound which disorientates and panics the animals, essentially making them easy to control and are steered towards the cove.
Depending on the pod and how spread out they are, some animals can split away and escape – which is one of the reasons that I make myself watch the streams when the season begins. Just because a pod is driven towards the cove, it doesn’t always mean that they will all be driven under the tarps to be killed.
Speaking of which, those animals which are driven successfully into the cove will often endure a rigorous, violent selection process to see if they are more suited to a life in captivity rather than being served up on a plate in some Taiji restaurant. So-called “dolphin trainers” are rushed in to hand pick the most “attractive” animals which are then transported to the nearby pens in the Taiji harbour to begin their training.
Those which are deemed unfit for the captivity industry are then pushed violently closer to the shore where their panic increases. Some don’t even survive this – whether they tangle themselves in the nets or simply die from the stress. Many dolphins also shred their skin on the rocks after seeing no other way out other than to fling themselves against the sharp cliffs, but in the end they all get pushed under the tarps which are now hung around the cove to stop onlookers videoing the slaughter and exposing the cruelty to the world.
It is under these tarps that the “humane” destruction of the animals take place. The fishermen of Taiji claim that the method that they use is a quick and painless death, but there are countless videos which prove otherwise. I’m not going to go into detail of the method or even link these videos on this particular post because I know how upsetting they will be for many people, including myself.
AlI I will say is that a metal spike is used to pierce the spinal cord of the animal and then the hole is plugged to help reduce the amount of blood which seeps into the waters of the cove – a famous image that can be seen all around the animal rights world. The death is not quick, and painless – the videos definitely suggest otherwise.
What Species are Affected?
So, what are the most targeted species in the Taji area? There are many different species of dolphin which are targeted by the fishermen of Taiji, but each of them are very different – both in looks and temperament, and even to what end they are caught for.
For example, Pacific White Sided Dolphins are not driven into the cove due to their tendency to harm themselves against the rocks when they panic. These dolphins are highly sought after by the captivity industry, and won’t be worth anything if they are injured as they simply wont be “pretty” enough. On the flip side, Risso’s Dolphins are one of the more common species to get driven into the cove and the majority are slaughtered.
Every year, the fishermen are given a quota to stick to. This year, they have the following:
In 2000 more than 2,000 dolphins were killed within the cove and in 2012, 240 animals were selected for captivity- these are two of the worst years on recent record for capture and slaughter, even though many dolphins are taken captive and killed every single year.
What Can I Do?
If you’re as shocked as I am about this barbaric hunt, then you’re probably wondering what you can do about it.
The best way to help without even needing to do a thing is to take the pledge to never attend a dolphin show and sticking to it. Although it may not seem like it, the worldwide captivity industry is fuelling hunts like these to gain new stock. In fact, SeaWorld has been linked to the Taiji hunts in the past and while they remain adamant that none of their current collection have come from the drive hunts, they have paid the Taiji fishermen in the past.
Can you watch a dolphin perform and look happy when you know that they could have been potentially tortured for hours and watched their loved ones die?
(the following video is nothing to do with Taiji – it’s just a beautiful 360 interactive video of wild, happy, free dolphins!)
Another way to get involved is to do what I’m doing right now. Get the word out there and tell the world that this is happening. The Taiji fishermen and Japanese Government are adamant that the world stays oblivious to this event – don’t let these dolphins die in vain! Many Japanese people are also unaware that this goes on, which shows just how much this needs to be exposed.
You can take a look at Ric O Barry’s Dolphin Project or Sea Shepherd for more information on how to get directly involved with the cessation of the Taiji drive hunts – whether it’s being a cove monitor or even just simply helping spread the news of the cause verbally at an organised demonstration – every little really does help.
I know I’ll be wearing my Dolphin Project Crew hoodie a lot more over the coming few months to help spread awareness – won’t you help us, too?