Dolphin Slaughter Under Way in Taiji… Again

richard_o_barry_dolphin(1)There’s a little coastal town on the eastern seaboard of Japan called Taiji where smiling dolphin statues and cartoon whale murals greet visitors. Flanked by mountains, speckled with Buddhist temples, and inhabited by fishermen, Taiji seems quaint, homespun. However, a 2009 documentary exposes what happens there every year between September and March – some 23,000 dolphins are captured, some being sold to aquariums and theme parks, others being butchered and marketed as whale meat.

And it is happening right now… the dolphin hunt is currently underway in Taiji.

The locals call it “pest control,” despite the fact that the fishermen drive the animals into Taiji’s cove by banging metal pipes on the sides of their boats. Once pinned in, the fishermen and animal trainers pick through the inventory to determine which dolphins will live and which will not. The subsequent slaughter stains the waters a deep crimson.

In the off-chance that you haven’t seen the film, the makers of The Cove employed espionage-inspired tactics in order to gain stunning and disturbing footage of the annual ritual. Anchored by anti-captivity activist and former dolphin trainer Richard O’Barry, the depiction involves much intrigue and required highly skilled (and adventure-loving) craftsmen to capture. (Illegally imported thermal and night-vision cameras had to be covertly sneaked into rocks along the walls of the cove.) For O’Barry, shutting down Taiji’s operations might just expiate a bit of the burden he carries for having brought trained dolphins into acceptability through his work on Flipper.

The fishermen claim that the International Whaling Commission doesn’t regulate the killing of dolphins and porpoises, so… fair game. The Japanese aren’t big on adhering to IWC dictates anyway (as documented each week on Animal Planet’s Whale Wars), using the veil of scientific research to hunt whales in the Southern Ocean. They also bully and pay off smaller nations into voting with them on the IWC.

Dolphins are incredibly intelligent, self-aware animals, so this barbaric ritual and the subsequent lives in captivity are made even more cruel by that fact. Additionally, dolphin meat contains super-high levels of mercury which is unsafe for human consumption. It’s a lose-lose for the dolphins and their consumers. The only winners here are the fishermen who are paid tens of thousands of dollars for each specimen.

So, the next time you want to buy whale meat or pay to swim with a dolphin, stop and think about where that little critter came from, the wild, natural life it no longer enjoys… and then, just say no.