The 1st of September is almost upon us. For those familiar with the Taiji drive hunts, this date is loaded with ominous associations. It marks the beginning of a long dolphin-hunting season – signaling the start of six months of butchery, extreme cruelty, and red water.
The 2014-2015 hunt quota is 1,938 cetaceans. Taiji fishermen have been permitted to kill 70 false killer whales, 114 short finned pilot whales, 134 Pacific white sided dolphins, 261 Risso dolphins, 400 Pantropical spotted dolphins, 450 striped dolphins, and 509 bottlenose dolphins.
This staggering figure doesn’t necessarily mean 1,938 cetaceans will be slaughtered this season. In the last few years the number of dolphins killed has been less than half the quota. Last year saw approximately 834 dolphins die in the cove. An additional 158 were sold into live capture and 457 were detained before release.
Mark Palmer of the Earth Island Institute believes a decline in the number of dolphins killed in the hunts is due to the market for dolphin meat taking a sharp fall.
The horrific events in Taiji contribute to countless other moral dilemmas including eco-sustainability, concerns raised over the safety of dolphin meat for human consumption, the live dolphin trade, and the ethics of keeping cetaceans in captivity for commercial entertainment.
There is no question that the methods used in Taiji are inhumane. According to an independent veterinary analysis published in the Journal of Applied Animal Welfare Science, the Taiji killing method would register at the “highest level of gross trauma, pain, and distress”. Video footage of the slaughters shows that it can take 7 minutes for dolphins to die an agonising death.
But what about the dolphins sold into captivity? Statistical analysis of numbers reported to the Japanese Fisheries Agency between the years 2000 -2009 suggest that animals taken through live capture account for 5.5% of the total Taiji catch over this ten year timeframe. Dolphins captured in Taiji have been sent all around the world to countries such as China, Egypt, Russia, The United Arab Emirates, Vietnam, Saudi Arabia, Thailand, Ukraine, Iran, South Korea, and the United States, among other international locations.
Dolphins in captivity suffer from much higher mortality rates than wild dolphins. They also endure chronic health issues, injuries sustained due to hyper-aggression between captive animals, psychological distress, and, for dolphins captured in the wild, the trauma of being separated from their families.
As well as marking the beginning the annual drive hunt, the 1st of September is also Japan Dolphins Day. There are peaceful protests and events being planned around the world, intended to increase awareness and create a powerful tide of public opinion aimed at ending the drive hunts once and for all.
Australia for Dolphins will be hosting an event on the St Kilda foreshore in Melbourne this Sunday the 31st of August between 12pm and 3pm, to celebrate the beauty and wonder of cetaceans. We invite you to join us.