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Bottlenose and Risso’s dolphins first victims of drive hunts in Taiji

The first slaughter of the drive hunt season which officially began on September 1st commenced with the brutal killing of at least 16 Risso’s dolphins that were herded into the killing cove on September 10th. Reports from Taiji also reveal the tragic chase, capture and round-up of as many as 80 bottlenose dolphins on September 19th. Of these, at least 50 dolphins were selected alive for captive programs as they were held overnight in the cove, with the remaining pod of 30 or so individuals released to the ocean the following day.

In the past, the round-up and capture of large numbers of bottlenose dolphins has met international condemnation. In January 2014, over 250 bottlenose dolphins were driven into the cove, and over the course of several days, at least 50 were taken into captivity, 41 were slaughtered for their meat, and the rest were released. An equally large round-up of bottlenose dolphins occurred in December of 2012, as well, with similarly devastating results where 25 were killed and over 100 individuals were taken into captivity.

Although dolphins around the coastline of Japan have had a slight reprieve at the beginning of the drive hunt season due to inclement weather, it is clear that the season is once again underway in earnest with these recent capture and killing events.

It is not clear whether the dolphins released will have a chance at survival: a significant body of peer-reviewed scientific literature details the physiological, behavioral, psychological, and socio-ecological impacts that chase, encirclement and capture have on dolphins. The majority of the literature reveals that acute and chronic stress-related impacts, as well as direct mortality, may result from prolonged and sustained capture techniques, such as those associated with the drive hunts, but also with other capture operations.

However traumatized or injured, at least those individuals released back to the ocean have a chance—those dolphins taken into captivity, if they even survive, will indisputably experience tremendous suffering in a deprived and shortened life in confinement.

WDC is maintaining a watchful eye as this drive hunt season unfolds. On the heels of the Japan Association of Zoos and Aquariums (JAZA’s) suspension from the World Association of Zoos and Aquariums (WAZA) and its recent reinstatement after deciding to comply with WAZA’s ethical mandates finally requiring the Japanese association and its members to disassociate from capture and acquisition of live dolphins through these hunts, it is unclear which facilities might choose to honor or thwart this agreement, or drop out of JAZA altogether in defiance of this commitment to disassociate from the hunts.  

What is clear is that one of the primary culprits in the capture, trade and brokerage of drive hunt dolphins–the Taiji Whale Museum–will continue to operate as usual through its continuing association with drive hunts. The Museum announced that it would be dropping out of JAZA in early September to continue its dolphin collection activities. 

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. The year prior during the 2013-14 hunt season, official figures indicate that at least 834 dolphins were killed and 158 dolphins taken alive into captivity. Although Futo has not conducted a hunt since 2004, its quota is still active and can be resumed at any time.

Join our campaign to help end the drive hunts