On the heels of a flurry of diplomatic proclamations condemning the cruelty of the dolphin drive hunts in Japan, a Scottish member of Parliament has joined the refrain and issued a statement to encourage her colleagues to take up action against the hunts.
In her statement and motion lodged in the Scottish Parliament on February 21st, Alison McInnes said:
“I hope that MSPs will join my calls to both the UK and the Scottish government to pursue this issue unequivocally with the Japanese government. For years many in the international community have watched on with horror as thousands of dolphins have been subject to brutal and inhumane treatment at the port of Taiji. The heart-wrenching process has seen dolphins killed or captured, many slaughtered for their meat or sold to aquariums where they are held captive for the rest of their lives. The British Ambassador to Japan Tim Hitchens and many others have taken the step to publicly condemn this practice and I hope parliament will take the opportunity to make its voice heard.”
Other statements have been issued from a member of the Romanian Parliament, US Ambassador to Japan, British Ambassador to Japan, the German Agriculture Minister, Australian Minister of the Environment, and Italian Ambassador to Japan.
We are used to attention to the drive hunts escalating when a large number of bottlenose dolphins are herded into the cove, or a ‘novelty’ turns up in the fishermen’s nets and the media takes note of the issue, such as the recent capture of a young albino dolphin, or the four-finned dolphin taken in 2006. Many are mistaken to think that the drive hunts only occur when the media decides to pick up on them. However, the drive hunts begin in September each year and can extend through April or even into May, and regardless of whether the media takes notice.
More importantly, these are not the only hunts that occur around the coastline of Japan. When not engaged in the drive hunts, the fishermen in Taiji also participate in harpoon hunts and small type coastal whaling for dolphins, false killer whales and pilot whales. These harpoon hunts also occur elsewhere in Japan, effectively ensuring that Japan’s dolphins are assaulted and traumatized almost year-round by various hunting methods over the seasons. In fact, the total quota for all small whale and dolphin species allowed to be taken by all hunting methods (harpoon, drive hunts, and coastal whaling) in Japan for 2013-2014 is 16,497 individuals.
We have become accustomed to the media cycle covering the dolphin hunts waxing and waning over the years, as we have supported on-the-ground documentation of the hunts well before the release of The Cove with representatives of WDC traveling to Taiji, and through our support of individuals like Hardy Jones who has been exposing the drive hunts in Japan since the early 1980s. It is difficult to maintain the focus on these atrocities in the midst of other global chaos, and as attention to these hunts peaks during this time of higher profile, we must make the most of the opportunity to forge a permanent political dialogue on this issue.
We hope this time is different, and that the political attention being paid to the drive hunts will keep these hunts at the forefront of not only media attention, but policy makers’ agendas. We all must seek to harness this unprecedented attention within political circles to not only expose these hunts, but formulate concrete actions that governments can take to protect dolphins in their own waters, and encourage the Government of Japan to honestly address all unsustainable and cruel dolphin hunts that occur in its coastal waters. Currently, dolphins fall through the cracks of any existing protective legislation in Japan, including fisheries management, animal welfare, and even hunting regulations. Why are dolphins exempted from even the most basic of regulatory considerations in Japan?
With these higher profile political voices joining the overwhelming public refrain, there is an opportunity to encourage a mosaic of proactive governmental action at the national and international level against the directed hunts of dolphins all over the globe, and within a variety of fora. Drive hunts occur primarily in Japan, the Faroe Islands, and the Solomon Islands, but opportunistic and other hunting of dolphins, such as for shark bait in Peru, occurs all over the globe and with no less horrific methods than those being used in Taiji.
There is no doubt that the movie, The Cove, has done a great deal to raise awareness of these hunts and instigate a groundswell of public sentiment against them, but what is even more important is the longer term work that is required to change perceptions and attitudes within Japan, and the legal frameworks that support dolphin hunting. It will take collective political will to issue more than a statement condemning the drive hunts—we seek the longer term resolve and commitment from international governments to work within their legislative capacities and diplomatic networks to increase protections for dolphins worldwide and end all dolphin hunts for good.