More than 200 dolphins were recently sequestered into a tiny cove near Taiji, Japan, where the community’s infamous annual dolphin slaughter is set to take place in a matter of days.
Dolphins are one of the most well-known and beloved marine animals, which explains why they are prominently featured in zoos, aquariums, and other venues offering animal-based entertainment. Though the popularity of dolphins is based on their intelligence, playful antics, and capacity for making connections with humans, this popularity has spawned a dark side that has exposed some of nature’s most lively creatures to the worst of human behavior. The dolphins that people have come to know and love didn’t just magically appear in captivity – they were captured by force and sold to the highest bidder. Not only that, these “show” dolphins are oftentimes the sole survivors of brutal dolphin slaughters where those not deemed fit for tourism and aquatic park attractions are butchered for their meat via one of the most horrific and cruel killing techniques in use today.
The most infamous of these slaughters takes place annually near the community of Taiji in the Wakayama prefecture of Southern Japan. The event, commonly known as the Taiji dophin drive hunt, lasts for months, often from September to March and is carried out by a small, select group of local fisherman who clings to the annual carnage as an important display of “traditional fishing culture.” However, the hunt itself is a modern invention made possible only by the use of motorized boats. As the hunt begins, fishermen begin to herd small groups – known as “pods” – of dolphins into the cove. Fishermen use metal bars which bang along the sides of their boats, producing a sound that irritates and stresses the dolphins by disrupting the sonar they use to navigate and orient themselves. After being herded, the dolphins, who are often agitated, are enclosed into small pens by nets and left to calm down overnight before they are taken into captivity or butchered within the same, small holding pens in which they were originally sequestered. For most of the history of the slaughter, the kill method used involved the slitting of the dolphins’ throats, who then died due to exsanguination. However, the Japanese government banned this method and then replaced it with one even worse. Now, dolphins are killed by driving a metal pin into the dolphins’ necks, which is intended to cut the brainstem and lead to a more rapid death. However, several veterinarians and behavioral scientists evaluated the current kill method used at Taiji and concluded that “This killing method….would not be tolerated or permitted in any regulated slaughterhouse process in the developed world.”
Now, the conservation watchdog Sea Sheperd has reported that Japanese hunters spotted a super-pod of over 200 dolphins early Friday morning. The dolphins were herded into an enclosure in the Taiji cove where a majority of them await a grisly fate. According to Sea Sheperd, “at least 200 bottlenose dolphins are spending their final live moments in the cove in Taiji, netted off and awaiting potential captivity or slaughter.” They added that “many, many juveniles and many dolphins [are] spy-hopping, displaying scared and unnatural behavior.” Considering that dolphins are scientifically recognized as sentient beings, such behavior indicates that they are well aware of the fate that awaits them. According to Sea Sheperd and other observer groups, the slaughter of this particular super-pod is set to take place at some point this weekend.
Though groups like Sea Sheperd are in attendance to monitor and expose the situation, there is little they can do for fear of arrest as a heavy police presence descends upon the cove during Taiji’s seasonal slaughter. Those who attempt to interfere with the hunt are arrested before they can get anywhere close to stopping the bloodbath as the Japanese government has been very vocal in its support of the dolphin hunts despite international outrage about the treatment of dolphins as well as the high mercury content of the butchered dolphin meat that is then marketed within Japan. Under current Japanese law, the Wakayama prefecture is allowed to annually hunt and kill up to 2,026 dolphins and porpoises, a high number designed to protect the whale and dolphin fishermen who insist that this practice is a tradition. However, as the Sea Sheperd team noted, “There are many frightened babies with their mothers. This is not tradition, this is not culture; this is cruelty, this is torture.”
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