Once again Taiji’s dolphin hunters are readying their nets and sharpening their steel rods for a season of capturing and killing. Pods of dolphins will be corralled into Japan’s most infamous cove, where they will be selected either for sale or slaughter.

While dolphin meat is consumed in parts of Japan, it is uncommon and more than likely a by-product of the live dolphin trade, which is fuelled by an international demand to stock aquatic wildlife parks. Westerners who may be shocked by images of screaming cetaceans being herded and butchered would do well to make this connection. The real global money is in marine parks, in which dolphins, orcas and whales are kept in cramped, torturous conditions and forced to perform to cheering crowds, something that can be very disturbing to their sensitive sonar. Hordes of tourists from around the world flock to these shows year round, thinking the cute dolphins are simply having a great time performing and being tossed fish.

Though it has been almost exclusively foreign media covering the annual hunt and opposition against it, news of the slaughter has progressively reached the Japanese public (see this AFP image of Japanese protesters marching against the hunt in Tokyo on August 31). According to representatives from the Taiji fisheries association, the hunt officially began on Monday, but has been hampered by bad weather. Pilot whale hunting season, which lasts until April, also began on the same day.

Japan Dolphins Day event in Budapest, Hungary on 30 August. Pic: EadaoinFlynn (Flickr CC)

In March the International Court of Justice ordered Japan to cease its whale hunting activities in Antarctic waters. Besides the “scientific research” defence, pro-dolphin and whale-hunting voices in Japan cite tradition and culture as motivations for the hunt, often criticising Western hypocrisy.

Shuichi Matsumoto, president of the Taiji-Isana fishermen’s union is quoted in the English version of Japan’s Asahi Shimbun newspaper:

There is no reason for us to be criticized for the dolphin hunt, and we will not give up hunting due to harassment. We will continue hunting with pride.

The standoff between activist groups like Sea Shepherd’s Cove Guardians and Taiji’s fishing industry is sometimes presented as an East vs. West dichotomy, yet there are strong and committed voices against the events in Taiji coming from within Japan as well. However, according to the Asahi Shimbun, it’s the foreign activists that are the major source of “tension”.

Nonetheless, protests against the enslavement and killing can be heard around the globe. Earth Island Institute Philippines recently made statements connecting Taiji’s dolphin slaughter (illegal in the Philippines) with dolphin and whale shows in their own country.

Trixie Concepcion, Earth Island Institute Director for Asia, is quoted in the Inquirer:

Our call to students is, if they love dolphins, they should not watch dolphin shows. They can learn more from watching National Geographic or Animal Planet or Knowledge Channel.

On Monday, activists gathered at the Japanese embassy in Manila to protests the annual hunt.

It is also worth noticing that Japan is not the only target of cetacean activists. Fourteen people were arrested in the Faroe Islands for trying to stop a pilot whale hunt last Saturday in which 33 of the whales were killed. Pilot whales are also members of the dolphin family. Faroese police were assisted by the Danish Royal Navy, which ordered three Sea Shepherd boats to stand off. 

If you would like to lend your voice to the movement to stop the capture and slaughter of dolphins in Taiji’s cove, here is a list of petitions you can sign.

Pic: Official Sea Shepherd Cove Warriors Facebook page