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Japanese Dolphin Drive Hunts: Right or Wrong?

Friday, October 7, 2005 Posted: 11:55 PM JST

On the coast of the small Japanese town of Taiji some ten fishing boats are bobbing quietly up and down on the quiet waves. Fishermen on the boats beat on long metal poles which are stuck into the water. At the end of each pipe is a metal disc which drives the noise into the water like a loudspeaker. About five dolphins flee away from the terrifying sound, in front of the bows of the boats. For hundreds of years this dolphin hunt has been taking place. Now it has to stop say nature activists.

Taiji is one of the last places where you'd expect a worldwide controversy. The little town, with 3,600 inhabitants more village than town, lies hidden in a far away corner of the prefecture of Wakayama. Not one highway reaches here, only local roads and a single train track. Even with the fastest express train it is a trip of almost 4 hours from Osaka, center of West Japan.

Each year from October through April fishermen here hunt the passing schools of dolphins. Between one and two thousand of them are caught each year. First they drive the dolphins into a bay. This is immediately closed with two nets. The next day the dolphins are caught, one by one. Fishermen quickly drive a long metal pin into the neck of each dolphin. Within seconds they are dead. Until recently their throats were slit, but Japanese authorities have stopped that method. It sometimes took minutes for the dolphins to die. There was clearly a lot of suffering.

Even with this new method it is no pretty sight. The blood of the dolphins slowly colors the sea red, and the streamlined bodies look deeply sad in their lifelessness. This is what you usually see in a slaughter house, but few of us ever go there. It is far removed from our image of cheery animals that enthusiastically jump out of the water.

Not all dolphins are killed. An increasing number are caught alive and are sent to aquariums and dolphinariums.

Former dolphin trainer Rick O'Barry says that he often cried while watching these hunts. Famous for his work as trainer in the American TV series Flipper, he has been exerting himself to protect dolphins for many years. He is one of the organizers of the worldwide demonstrations against Japanese dolphin drive hunts that are taking place on Saturday October 8. He calls the hunts on dolphins, which take place at two locations in Japan, a "crime against nature".

"These are no fish," explains O'Barry passionately, "They are self aware creatures that routinely make choices and decisions regarding the details of their life. They are entitled to freedom of choice, thus they are entitled to freedom."

Intelligence plays an important role says O’Barry. "The fact is, dolphins are more like gorillas or humans than fish. But they are treated the same way as tuna."

O'Barry's opposition of the hunting of dolphins is "absolute". It doesn't matter that the dolphin species in question are not endangered, believes the former trainer. "It's not about science, it's about ethics. Does an animal have to be close to extinction before we treat the animal with respect?"

Yoji Kita, spokesman of Taiji and former head of the Whale Museum says he has trouble with the reasoning that intelligence adds to the value of a creature. "That would also mean that if something is dumb, it will have fewer rights. It is also said that dolphins are cute, and that it is sad to kill them. Is it then allowed to kill ugly creatures?"

"Many western people," explains Mayor Sangen, say that they feel it is not right to hunt an animal that swims around freely. But from our perspective, it is strange to keep an animal to eat it. We find all those cows very sad."

Whaling -the dolphin drive hunts are seen as part of whaling- as cultural heritage also plays an important role to the inhabitants of Taiji. Taiji is famous in Japan as "whale city". Next year it celebrates that whaling has been taking place here for 400 years. For years it was the most important industry of Taiji. Everything of the whale was used. "When I was a kid we even chewed on pieces of skin as a snack," says Teruto Seko (61), chairman of the local fisheries cooperation.

That feeling is strong among Taiji's inhabitants. "I felt deeply moved," says 30-year old Remi Ikeda, law student and inhabitant of of Taiji, "when I watched the fishermen today."

"Traditional Japan the way it was, is left alive here. In this ultra modern world of computers and media society, you can still see this very old aspect of our culture. It fascinates me."

At its height in the 60s, some 500 people worked in Taiji's whaling industry. It brought in 60 percent of the town's tax income. "Now that is only 100 people, and two to three percent of tax income," says Sangen.

"There is no other place in the world that has this long of a whaling history," explains Kita. "We see it as a cultural heritage of humankind. This is truly native culture. Wouldn't it be good if there is one place left on the world where this culture is left alive?'

Since several years the controversy over the dolphin drive hunts has a new aspect. Research by, among others, professor Endo of the Medical University of Hokkaido has shown that dolphin meat has a high ratio of methyl mercury. No less than 7 parts per million (ppm). Methyl mercury affects the nervous system. Tuna is famous for having a high ratio of methyl mercury, but it only has 0.7 ppm.

"If you often eat dolphin meat," explains the professor, "for example 100 grams three times a week, you certainly will get sick. It is a matter of course that you'd better not eat it. Pregnant women and small children should certainly not eat it."

The organizations that demonstrate against the drive hunts consider it irresponsible that dolphin meat is put on the market. "If it is true," says O'Barry, "that the dolphin meat is indeed poisoned with mercury, willfully allowing the unsuspecting Japanese public to consume this mercury poison is in my opinion a crime against humanity. That is a very strong charge against the Japanese government, I know. But I stand by my statement."

"Scientists," says Kita, "often give out figures without further explanation. This figure only says something about the situation now, and nothing about the past ten, twenty years. We see no problems and also have no victims of mercury poisoning in this town."

"Moreover," says Mayor Sangen, "I don't think that people will eat dolphin meat much longer. The younger generation is not used to it. It is taboo to say this, but I believe it will end within ten years."

The dolphin drive hunt seems an almost impossible knot to untie. There are at least three vastly difficult ethical questions in play. Do people have the right to use other animals? May intelligence play a role? Do people have the right to force their own beliefs onto others?

For at least the last question Remi Ikeda has a ready answer: "I don't believe the whole world should become the same."

Keywords: national_news special_report

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10 comments so far post your own

1 | At 02:33am on Oct 08 2005, Mary wrote:
well, yes it is wrong. period!! these beautiful creatures should not be killed. period!!
Thank you.
2 | At 06:40pm on Oct 08 2005, Marco wrote:
Who are we, Westerners, always trying to impose our moral values onto other races. We have been doing this for hundreds of years, with the moral values of Europe, we have been enslaving the blacks, poisoning the Chinese with Opium, converting and culling the Indians, just because European values are superior? Not much earlier, it was totally acceptable to burn witches based on a women's weight.

It is only 40 years ago that scientist found out that monkeys have emotions, apes can use tools and we should treat them as next of kin. More recently we found out that Dolphins have emotions and intelligence.

With our western morals it is justified to incarcerate chickens, pigs, cows, etc... for live. We put them in concentration camps and when they are fat enough, we murder them, without emotions, since all we see is the neatly packed slabs of meat in the super market.

It will only be a matter of time before science will tell us that chickens have morals and fish have feelings.

The moral question is whether it is better to keep animals in concentration camps and murder them or to have them lead a free life and kill them when we require food. But it remains a moral question, and just because we are Westerners, does not mean we are right.
3 | At 04:40pm on Oct 10 2005, Kim Petersen wrote:
Our organization hosted a small but successful petition drive along the Sea Wall on Okinawa Island, Japan, for Japan Dolphin Day.

The results? The Japanese were horrified to see that their "own" could be involved in such a brutal mass slaughter of dolphins. Admittedly, a few knew that dolphin was on the menu in a few local restaurants, but the method with which that delicacy was made available stunned the general public.

My theory is that with more PR in Japan (mainland) and outlying prefectures demonstrating the method with which the dolphins are butchered - compounded by evidence of the levels of mercury in dolphin meat - this barbaric capture and killing of dolphins could cease quickly.

In order for such a PR blitz to succeed, funding is needed - obviously. I am begging anyone reading this to PLEASE DONATE to the cause via www.savetaijidolphins.org .

We had but a few citizens who refused to sign - and all of them were DIVERS. 100% of the surfers we approached SIGNED the petitions.

If you are a diver who frequents the waters of Japan's islands - I urge you to educate your fellow divers.

Thank you.
4 | At 12:12pm on Oct 28 2005, Kelly Rinker wrote:
As an avid Dolphin lover, I have refrained from swimming with the dolphin and have reported several aquariums to the Humane Society for being less than idealistic for the inhabitants. Much to my dismay, each and every instance has resulted in a written report sent to me explaining that all reported aquariums are well within the legal boundaries set forth by the Dolphin Act. Though some were worse than others, an aquarium in South Dakota housed 2 dolphon with not much more room than an above ground swimming pool in a small back yard. With water that looked to be contaminated, the 2 dolphin housed there were forced to jump through hoops, only to hit their noses at the end of the pool upon landing. Imagine my dismay to learn the female was pregnant and the arrival of her newborn would only increase the cramped living area.
I vacationed in Curacao in December of 2003 and finally swam with the dolphin. It was the most majestic, amazing experience of my life.
Tonight I turned on Primetime, only to learn that a trainer from the aquarium in Curacao is responsible for more captivities and deaths of dolphin than any other--Chris Porter.
I urge anyone who has a voice to hunt this man down and make his life miserable by making any further captures impossible. Financial gain is no replacement for a good nights sleep and maybe if reminded of this he will open his ears to the cries of these beautiful creatures being ripped from their pods, deafened and murdered for the enjoyment of ignorant admirers such as myself.
I am ashamed and embarrassed of myself for giving in to an industry who could care less of my enjoyment and only of their financial gain.
5 | At 04:33am on Nov 15 2005, Jill Gershen wrote:
Is this wrong?! Is there any debate on this? Cultural differences have nothing to do with this. Subjecting any animal to this level of terror and torture is unacceptable no matter what the reason. And even Europeans and Americans have the right to identify cruelty when they see it. If Japanese people wish to fight the cruelty in American slaughterhouses, more power to them. I embrace that. Cruelty is cruelty and should never be acceptable for cultural reasons. Human sacrifice and slavery were once acceptable practices in certain cultures. It certainly doesn't make them right.
6 | At 09:31am on Nov 30 2005, Ric O'Barry wrote:
'Secret' dolphin slaughter defies protests

Special to The Japan Times

Japan's annual slaughter of thousands of dolphins began Oct. 8 in the
traditional whaling town of Taiji on the Kii Peninsula of Honshu's Wakayama
Prefecture. These "drive fisheries" triggered demonstrations, held under the
"Japan Dolphin Day" banner, in 28 countries. The protests went almost entirely
unreported in Japan, where only very few people are aware of what goes on.
The culling, spanning a period of six months, is officially condoned as part of
traditional culture, and is described as "pest control" by practitioners.
However, it is the inhumane way in which the mammals are killed, by stabbing
and spearing them, that especially provokes such widespread revulsion.

Taiji fishermen begin the oikomi (fishery drive) by going out to sea in motor
boats to locate pods of dolphins. They then place long steel poles with flared,
bell-like ends into the water and bang them to create a wall of sound that
amplifies underwater and drives their prey into a narrow cove. Once there, the
dolphins' escape is cut off by nets strung across the mouth of the cove. The
following day -- after they have rested so, it is thought, their meat becomes
more tender -- they are herded into another cove nearby where the slaughter is
carried out. Much of the meat is then processed for human consumption -- even
though eating it could well be a very foolhardy thing to do.

A video with footage shot at Taiji in January 2004 by One Voice, a French-based
animal rights group, and other footage from a similar oikomi in Futo, Shizuoka
Prefecture, by a cameraman who requested anonymity, shows dolphins thrashing
about wildly as they try to escape and the water turns red.

Drive fisheries appear to be carried out in as much secrecy as possible, and
the killing cove in Hatagiri Bay at Taiji is hidden between two mountains.
There, a gigantic tarp is strung over the shoreline to cut off the view from
land, and paths leading to the cove are closed off with chains and posted with
signs reading "No Trespassing!" and "Keep Out, Danger!" said Ric O'Barry an
official with One Voice.

O'Barry, a former trainer of the dolphins used in the U.S. television series
"Flipper," recently returned home to Miami from Taiji after shooting footage of
freshly killed dolphins being lifted onto a pier in the harbor there. Speaking
prior to his departure, O'Barry said that the Taiji dolphin-killers are proud
of what they do, and boast of a tradition dating back 400 years. "However," he
commented, "if they are so proud of this, why do they take such pains to hide
their activity?"

O'Barry said he met with the local Taiji fishery group and offered them a
subsidy to stop the killings, but was rebuffed and told the dolphins were
"pests" that competed with the commercial fishery. Noting that there are no
scientific studies showing dolphins are responsible for falling fish stocks in
the area, O'Barry cited overfishing as the probable cause.

But it is not just those doing the killing who make every effort to hide it
from the world. Japanese officials also strongly discourage outsiders from
seeing, recording or protesting the blood-letting.

During a fishery drive on Nov. 18, 2003, two members of the Washington state-
based Sea Shepherd Conservation Society were arrested by police from Taiji's
neighboring town of Shingu for jumping into freezing waters and releasing 15
dolphins trapped in a net awaiting slaughter. The pair, Alex Cornelisson from
the Netherlands and American Allison Lance-Watson, were held without bail and
only released on Dec. 9, 2003, after being indicted and fined for "forceful
interference with Japanese commerce." Meanwhile, two other Sea Shepherd members
staying in a trailer park in Taiji had their cameras, film, computer and some
personal belongings confiscated by police, according to an online news release
from the group. Undeterred, Sea Shepherd is offering a $10,000 reward to anyone
who provides the best footage of the drive fishery.

In response to allegations that the oikomi dolphins suffer from shock and die
slowly, in a Sept. 19, 2005, letter to British-based animal welfare and
conservation charity the Born Free Foundation, Jun Koda, Counselor of the
Japanese Embassy in London, said: "In some small parts of our country we have a
long tradition of consuming dolphin meat. Japanese fishermen are careful to
minimize suffering as soon as possible and cause as little pain to the dolphins
as possible."

Koda went on to say that the dolphin "almost instantly meets its end within a
maximum of 30 seconds and does not suffer any pain."

A rebuttal from Born Free said the data in which Koda based his claim is taken
from Faeroe Island dolphin hunts in the North Atlantic, which have not been
subject to independent scrutiny and hence have no bearing on the Japanese
culls. Koda's assertions are also countered by observers from One Voice and Sea
Shepherd, who have reported seeing wounded dolphins writhe in pain for almost
six minutes before succumbing to their wounds.

Meanwhile, another Japanese official was equally forthright in countering
critics' objections to killing dolphins for food. In a telephone interview this
month, Hideki Moronuki, assistant director of the whaling section in the Far
Seas Fishery Division of the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries,
expressed the view that, "If someone eats a cow, why should one object to a
dolphin being eaten; they're all mammals."

He added, "If Australians want to eat kangaroos, we don't care. . . . Please do
not care what Japanese do. . . . Dolphins and whales are part of Japanese food

Furthermore, speaking in English, Moronuki expressed his view that dolphins are
killed humanely in the fishery drives. Then, comparing the slaughter of a
dolphin to that of a cow or a pig, he declared: "Killing is killing."

O'Barry believes this is the attitude of most Japanese fishermen. "They don't
think of dolphins as intelligent, highly complex animals that love to play and
interact with people," he said.

But such sentiments are not confined to welfare and conservation groups.

On April 6, 2005, U.S. Sen. Frank Lautenberg, a Democrat from New Jersey,
sponsored Senate Resolution 99, "Expressing the sense of the Senate to condemn
the inhumane and unnecessary slaughter of small cetaceans . . . in certain
nations." The submission, currently referred to the Committee on Foreign
Relations, not only cites the fact that "those responsible for the slaughter
prevent documentation or data from the events from being recorded or made
public," but it describes how, "each year tens of thousands of small cetaceans
are herded into small coves in certain nations, are slaughtered with spears and
knives, and die as a result of blood loss and hemorrhagic shock."

C.W. Nicol, the renowned environmentalist, author, whaling expert and Japan
Times columnist, recently made an M.B.E. by Queen Elizabeth II, witnessed the
Taiji dolphin slaughter while living there in 1978. Speaking last week, he
said: "It's been a cancer in my gut ever since. It's no good to kill an animal
inhumanely, and to do so is not to the advantage of Japan."

However, not all the captured dolphins are killed. Every year, an unknown
number of healthy young specimens are selected and removed from the killing
coves to be sold into the international dolphin captivity industry, to be kept
in aquariums, trained to perform at dolphinariums or for swim-with-dolphin
programs. At Taiji, those involved appear to reap rich rewards in this way, and
O'Barry said he was told there that the fishery drives would stop and those
carrying them out would go back to catching lobsters and crabs if they were not
offered huge sums for "show" dolphins.

Echoing this, Nicol said he vehemently opposes the dolphin massacre, adding,
that "dolphins not selected for dolphinariums should be returned to the sea."

However, in a further, darkly ironic twist, serious health issues would seem to
surround meat from the slaughtered animals, which is available at supermarkets
in Shizuoka Prefecture and Kyushu.

At present, Hiroyuki Uchimi of the Japanese health ministry's Food Safety
Division explained, the provisional advisory safety levels set in 1973, and
still in effect for methyl mercury, are 2 micrograms a week for pregnant women
and 3.4 micrograms a week for all others, including children, for each kilogram
of body weight.

But according to Tetsuya Endo, a member of the Pharmaceutical Sciences faculty
at Hokkaido's Health Science University, mercury in a sample of the meat he
tested in 2003 from a supermarket in Ito, Shizuoka Prefecture, was 14.2 times
higher than the government's maximum advisory level. "It is terrible," he said
this month.

Endo's finding was amply supported by those of a 2000-2003 joint survey of
small cetacean food products sold in Japan by the Daichi College of
Pharmaceutical Sciences in Fukuoka, Kyushu, the university where Endo works,
and the School of Biological Sciences in Auckland, New Zealand. Published in
2005, this found that all dolphin food products "exceeded the provisional
permitted levels of 0.4 micrograms per wet gram for total mercury and 0.3
micrograms per wet gram for methyl mercury set by the Japanese government. The
highest level of methyl mercury was about 26 micrograms per wet gram in a food
sample from a striped dolphin, 87 times higher than the permitted level."
Methyl mercury is a particularly dangerous form of mercury, a neurotoxic

The paper concluded, "The consumption of red meat from small cetaceans . . .
could pose a health problem for not only pregnant women, but also for the
general population."

Despite this -- and that Senate Resolution 99, which cites "warnings regarding
high levels of mercury and other contaminants in meat from small cetaceans
caught off coastal regions" -- health warnings are not posted on the labels of
such food products sold in Japan.

In addition, critics of the drive fisheries claim there is little monitoring of
government culling quotas, already the highest in the world. At present, these
quotas set by the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries -- with drive
fishery licenses then issued by prefectural governments to local fishery
cooperatives -- stipulate that in the current 2005/06 season, 21,120 small
cetaceans can be killed, besides those selected for captivity. O'Barry
estimates that "more than 400,000 dolphins have been killed in Japan by dolphin
hunters over the past two decades."

O'Barry, who added that he is passionate about banning dolphin hunts, said he
even reversed his position on hunting cetaceans "to be clowns" in aquarium
shows after Cathy, one of the dolphins that portrayed Flipper, died in his
arms. As a trainer, O'Barry said he discovered that dolphins were among the
very few creatures in the animal kingdom that were not only highly intelligent,
but also self-aware, like gorillas and humans, as evidenced by recognition of
themselves when they saw their reflection in a mirror or watched themselves on
a TV monitor.

Perhaps a similar self-awareness on the part of dolphin hunters would point a
way forward. This may already be happening, as film-maker Hardy Jones of the
California-based Blue Voice conservation group found last month when he was in
Futo, where recently there has been a drastic decline in dolphin catches.

In a phone interview last week, Jones explained that while in Futo he heard
from a source close to former dolphin hunter Izumi Ishii that "Ishii has
switched from hunting dolphins to conducting 'dolphin watch' tours. So far this
year he's taken 2,600 tourists, who pay 4,000 yen each to enjoy seeing dolphins
in the wild."

As Jones observed, "With Ishii making more money from the tours than he ever
did as a dolphin hunter, he is setting a great example for the Taiji fishermen
to follow as well."

Boyd Harnell is a Japan-based journalist who has worked for Time Life TV, UPI,
Kyodo News and other media outlets.

The Japan Times: Nov. 30, 2005
(C) All rights reserved
7 | At 11:33am on Jan 13 2006, Lina Catto wrote:
We should take only what we need to survive, no more. Greed is what drives many actions across all societies and forces us to act without Honour. What would the forefathers of Japan say if they knew of the greed which is shown by their decendents? What would they say about the mass slaughter of wildlife in the oceans to satisfy their lust? What would they say about those whaling pirates posing as scientists? I imagine they would say that their decendents act without honour.
8 | At 01:20pm on Mar 02 2006, Kjeld Duits wrote:
Jeff Bryant brought this July 13, 2004 report to my attention: Report Repudiates Japan's Claim That Whales Eat Too Many Fish
9 | At 02:04pm on Mar 12 2006, Kjeld Duits wrote:
The Times carried an interesting article on March 4, 2006 describing how whales in the Gulf of Alaska eat the fish right off fishermen's lines. This appears to bolster Japan's claims that whales compete with fishermen.

"Scientists suspect that the sperm whales, once a prime target of commercial whalers, are recovering worldwide after being placed on the US endangered species list, but no definite population numbers exist. They, and other toothed whales, such as pilot whales, are known to pilfer fish catches. Killer whales in the Bering Sea also plunder sablefish longlines. "The conflict between human beings and whales in fisheries will likely increase," said Aaron Thode, a researcher at the University of California who heads the whale study
10 | At 04:42am on Nov 02 2007, Mark A. Tutty wrote:
Japanese people should be ashamed for killing dolphins and something should be done about it
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