Each year in the month of September, the beautiful bay of Taiji in Japan becomes a gruesome scene of the slaughtering of thousands of dolphins for the supply of aquariums and the food industry.
Despite the release of the 2010 shocking film The Cove: Bay of Shame which revealed the slaughter of dolphins, and the actions of cetacean protection associations, the massacres continue. This is why, since 2011, Richard O’Barry has organized the Japan Dolphin Day to put the spotlight on this tragedy to put a definitive end to it.
If you haven’t seen the amazing documentary The Cove yet, EVI revisits the context of this practice, the alternatives, and the positive actions which are currently being undertaken to stop this massacre.
The massacre of the dolphins of Taiji: a close-up on the tragedy
The city of Taiji is situated on the eastern shore of the Wakayama prefecture in Japan. Each year, the dolphins of its coasts are subject to a hunt in which dolphins are herded together before being slaughtered. This practice appeared in the 70s and is far from being a part of Japanese cultural traditions which is how the authorities want to justify it. As is indicated by the association C’est Assez (“That’s Enough”), dolphin hunting began in 1969 in order to provide the first whales to the Taiji Whale Museum. Before this date, there are traces of this practice just three times in the city registers: in 1933, 1936, and 1944.
The principle is simple: a dozen of small boats cross the migratory paths of the dolphins. Equipped with metal pipes submerged in the ocean, the fishermen hit these pipes with hammers to create a sound barrier in order to scare and disturb the dolphins which are extremely sensitive to sound. Then, the fishermen take advantage of the dolphins’ confusion to push them to the bay and corner them. Animal trainers then come to select some dolphins for aquariums and waterparks. They mainly look for females. Once the selection is done, the rest of the dolphins are cornered in a small cove to spear to death. The images of the bloody bay after the slaughter are particularly shocking. To reduce the quantity of blood, the hunters clog the blowhole with a wooden plug. The dolphins are then skinned and cut, often still alive. The Japanese government has tried to implement practices of swift deaths, but The Cove proves unequivocally the falsehood of this claim and the cruelty to which the dolphins are subjected. Fishermen rarely succeed at directly touching the spinal cord which leaves many dolphins fully aware while dying.
Dolphin meat is later sold for $600 under the name “whale meat” because of the controversy surrounding its harmfulness. Experts have conducted repeated experiments on dolphin meat and have revealed the presence of significant levels of mercury, a highly toxic heavy metal belonging to industrial pollution. Mercury can reach the fetus and cause long-term loss of memory, vision, and hearing.
This hunt has been hidden from the global and Japanese populations for a long time. It was put into the public eye via the 2010 documentary and sparked a wave of indignation and protests worldwide. However, the fishing unions and the Japanese government stand together. They justify this practice by declaring the dolphin population harmful because it would be capable of eating too many fish at the expense of the fishermen.
In reality, it’s mostly about money. The trade of living dolphins is very lucrative: about $150,000 per dolphin. Therefore, facing pressure from fishermen unions and the Japanese government, it is difficult to put an end to this practice.
The dolphinariums, or the illusion of happiness
There are currently 34 dolphinariums in the European Union that hold 250 cetaceans: orcas, dolphins, belugas, porpoises, and small cetaceans.
France counts 4 dolphinariums (Marine Land d’Antibes, Parc Astérix, Planète sauvage et Moorea) holding some 30 cetaceans.
These establishments offer public performances, photo shoots, dolphin therapy, or even swimming with dolphins under the pretext of raising awareness and conserving the species.
Appendix A of the Directive No. 338/97 of the European Council in principle prohibits all commercial use of marine mammals, but an exception is made in case of importation for scientific purposes, educational or conservation purposes.
However, this exception should be removed because these motives are out of step with the reality and the dolphinariums don’t participate in any way in the protection of the species.
Many pride themselves on participating in conservation efforts by investing in conservation programs, but they are rarely associated with cetaceans.
What’s more is that Directive EC 1999/22 requires that living conditions of animals be as close as possible to those in the natural environment for zoos which are considered dolphinariums. However, scientists are clear on the subject; this is impossible! Dolphins are a migratory species which can travel dozens of kilometers per day. No pool will be able to recreate the depth and pressure of the ocean.
In The Cove, Richard O’Barry returns to the topic of dolphinariums. Precursor to the phenomenon of the series Flipper for which he was the trainer, he currently fights against the captivity of cetaceans. He emphasizes their intelligence and their sense of feeling.
“When you go to this place with the music and the dolphin that jumps and he smiles it is difficult to see the problem, but the smile of the dolphin is the biggest deception of nature. It creates the illusion that he is permanently happy.”
He denounces the impact of captivity on the behavior and health of the dolphins: ulcers due to stress and depression.
It is therefore important to remove these dolphinariums which don’t have any reason to exist and to boycott them.
A progressive decline
Since 2010, the campaigns against the slaughter of Taiji have multiplied. NGOs such as Dolphinproject, Sea Shepherd, and International Marine Mammal Project are particularly active although the actions are sometimes difficult to lead due to police who stop all protest actions.
However, the number of dolphins killed has progressively declined. A dozen years ago, around 1,600 dolphins were killed in the bay. During the 2015-2016 season, 630 to 650 dolphins were killed and 117 captured according to the daily counts by Sea Shepherd.
This reduction is explained by the drop in demand. In fact, these actions have been carried out by International Marine Mammal Project in order to educate the Japanese population on the consumption of meat containing mercury. What’s more, in 2015, the Global Association of Zoos and Aquariums asked its Japanese branches to stop purchasing dolphins provided by the bay of Taiji, which was mostly about the benefits to the fishermen of Taiji.
The numbers remain unsustainable. However, protest campaigns must continue. It is for this goal that Japan Dolphin Day is organized each year and why it is important to participate.
Japan Dolphin Day Protests 2016
In Lyon: Place de la République
In Nantes : Place Royale (phone : 0603943157)
In Paris : Japan Dolphin Day protests a 2PM
Parvis des droits de l’Homme, Place du Trocadéro
Mobilize to stop the slaughter
Sign and share the petitions
Write to the authorites concerned
(Francais) Par e-mail au consulat français : firstname.lastname@example.org / email@example.com
(English) To the Japanese Priem Minister’s cabinet
Boycott the dolphinarium !