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Japan Dolphin Day signals the beginning of another dolphin drive hunt season in Japan

An international day of awareness again marked the beginning of the dolphin drive hunt season in Taiji, Japan with events occurring all over the globe in at least 50 countries on September 1st.  WDC supports these activities, otherwise known as Japan Dolphin Day, to raise awareness to the start of the seasonal dolphin hunts and participated in demonstrations in London and Phoenix(Tempe), among others.  We encourage our supporters to participate in these events to join the global call for an end to the brutal drive hunts in Taiji, Japan. The hunts begin on September 1st and will run through April or beyond.

This devastatingly cruel practice involves the herding of dolphins at sea and driving and corralling them into the confines of the cove in Taiji where they are then slaughtered for meat or kept alive for sale to marine parks across the globe. Yearly quotas for these drive hunts reach into the thousands, where small cetaceans of several species including bottlenose dolphins, striped dolphins, Risso’s dolphins, false killer whales and short-finned pilot whales, are killed or taken for captivity. Dolphins from the drive hunts are being shipped within Japan and all over the globe to captive facilities. Dolphins from the Taiji hunts have been most recently sent to Egypt, Ukraine, Thailand, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Iran, Vietnam and China.

Hunting quotas have been set for the 2015-16 season and allow for 1,873 dolphins to be taken in the drive hunts in Taiji alone. Of this total, over 900 bottlenose and striped dolphins may be killed, along with hundreds of other spotted, Risso’s, Pacific white-sided dolphins, false killer whales, and short-finned pilot whales. The town of Futo has been given a quota of 137 dolphins.

During the 2014-15 season, nearly 800 dolphins were killed in the drive hunts. An additional 80 individuals were selected alive from the hunts for captivity.  Although Futo has not conducted a hunt since 2004, its quota is still active and can be resumed at any time.

It is also important to note that 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 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 2015-16 is 15,066 individuals.

These hunts have increasingly received international diplomatic attention, including the formal statements from governments around the globe decrying the cruelty of these hunts and this ongoing slaughter. 

We are determined to end these brutal hunts. We are continuing our support of Japanese individuals and groups working hard to oppose both captivity and the drive hunts in Japan through educational outreach and advocacy, promotion of whale watching, creation of sanctuaries, and other activities that nurture the love of whales and dolphins within Japan. We are also continuing our outreach through the highest diplomatic channels to encourage political action against these hunts, and targeting the airlines that facilitate this trade through the carriage of dolphins to international facilities.  Our work to raise awareness and advocacy against the hunts within the marine mammal scientific community also continues.

There are no signs from the local authorities that the hunts will cease, and in fact, new plans for a ‘whale farm’ where whales and dolphins may be kept for tourists to view and swim with have been proposed. Town officials have indicated the hunts will continue in spite of this proposed facility that many assumed might displace the hunts as an alternative source of revenue or tourism in Taiji that might be harmed by the negative publicity surrounding the annual hunts. From WDC’s perspective, this is just an additional way for the town of Taiji to further exploit whales and dolphins, and adds to the other ‘attractions’ that benefit from the brutal slaughters that happen nearby, including the Taiji Whale Museum, swim-with operations that already operate seasonally in the killing cove during the summer, and Dolphin Base and Resort where tourists can also swim with dolphins from the hunts before they are trained and shipped all over the world.

The Taiji Fishing Cooperative is reportedly also planning a public relations campaign, including the use of cameras on their boats, to share more widely the methods undertaken while driving dolphins to shore.  From WDC’s perspective, if unadulterated video is shared with the public (however unlikely), it will provide an opportunity for these methods to be scrutinized more widely, and will only reveal the stress and trauma associated with capture and chase. We have already revealed the cruelty associated with the killing methods, and the capture, chase and confinement of dolphins during these hunts is also extremely stressful and inhumane.

A significant body of peer-reviewed scientific literature exists detailing the physiological, psychological, and socio-ecological impacts that chase, encirclement and capture inflicts upon terrestrial and marine species, including specifically dolphins. The preponderance of the literature reveals that acute and chronic stress-related impacts, as well as direct mortality, may result from prolonged and sustained capture techniques and procedures similar to those deployed in the dolphin drive hunts. Repeated claims from both JAZA and Japanese authorities that the chase and round-up of dolphins is humane are unfounded.

More recently, the World Association of Zoos and Aquariums (WAZA) suspended the membership of the Japan Association of Zoos and Aquariums (JAZA) with the threat of expulsion if JAZA-member facilities did not refrain from collecting dolphins from the drive hunts. Collection from the drive hunts is a violation of WAZA’s code of ethics, and the zoo association finally took action in late April 2105 to formally reprimand JAZA for its ongoing association with the drive hunts by suspending its membership. In order to avoid full expulsion from WAZA, JAZA decided to comply with WAZA’s mandate at the end of May 2015, and was reinstated into WAZA membership in June 2015. JAZA said it will expel aquariums that continue to use dolphins caught in drive hunts and will start promoting the breeding of dolphins.

This welcomed development has occurred after more than a decade of WDC engagement with WAZA, but requires continued vigilance on the ground in Taiji to monitor the activities of aquaria that may still continue to source from these cruel hunts.

WDC thanks all of the concerned supporters and activists that showed up at Japan Dolphin Day demonstrations worldwide. We were glad to stand side-by-side with some of you as we rallied together against the dolphin drive hunts. This more-than-symbolic gesture is an attempt to raise awareness, engage embassy officials, and stand in solidarity as a global community recognizing the start of another season of these cruel hunts in Japan.