On 13 February in Taiji, Japan, animal activists filed an unprecedented lawsuit in an effort to stop the hunting of dolphins in Taiji, arguing that the practice is not just cruel, but in fact illegal under Japanese law.
London animal-welfare group Action for Dolphins and Japanese NGO Life Investigation Agency have stated that dolphins are mistakenly classified as ‘fish’ in Japan and should be afforded the protections for mammals. The NGOs are claiming that Yoshinobu Nisaka, governor of the Wakayama prefect where Taiji is located, has allowed animal welfare laws to be violated, and catch quotas to be exceeded, by issuing permits to offending local fishermen.
According to Sarah Lucas, Chief Executive of Action for Dolphins, “The irresponsible overhunting of hundreds of dolphins and whales has contributed to the near elimination of some species in Japanese waters”.
The lawsuit, which was filed in a Wakayama district court, has shown that fishermen in the town have caught more than 400 dolphins and whales, above set quotas in the past five years.
Each year from approximately 1 September to 1 March, the large-scale hunt of dolphins takes place in the small village of Taiji, as made famous by the Academy Award-winning documentary ‘The Cove’. During these hunts, whole pods of dolphins are routinely herded in a sound-induced panic onto the shore by twelve motorized boats who surround them, putting several steel poles into the water which then fan out like bells and amplify the sounds of loud hammers made by the fishermen.
Some captured dolphin pods, such as the well-known bottlenose dolphins, are considered the ‘money-makers’. Usually, after being kept on the shore overnight, the young and trainable mammals are taken and sold to marine parks for sums of up to $152,000 USD each.
Officially, the main purpose of the dolphin hunt is to provide dolphin meat to the Japanese people – but only a small minority of people in Japan actually eat the meat because it is seen as low-grade in comparison to the culturally acclaimed whale meat. Whale meat is far more expensive and according to the non-profit group ‘Dolphin Project’, DNA results have shown that often times dolphin meat is sold as whale meat and intentionally mislabeled.
Japan sparked outrage amongst environmental activists in December 2018 when it decided to withdraw from the International Whaling Commission, saying it would return to commercial whaling as part of its cultural heritage. Taiji’s fishermen have said they do not plan to stop dolphin hunting — known for being part of the communities’ centuries-old whaling tradition and a vital part of the economy in Taiji.
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Image courtesy of Yale Cohen via Unsplash