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No reprieve for dolphins in Taiji

December has been a brutal month for dolphins in Taiji, Japan. Reports from the ground reveal the tragic chase, capture and slaughter of over 100 dolphins in an intense few weeks of hunting. At least eight Risso’s dolphins were herded and killed on December 17th, and a day later, a large pod of striped dolphins were driven into the cove, 36 of whom were slaughtered.

Most recently, and just a few days after the slaughter of these striped dolphins, a large group of at least 80 bottlenose dolphins were driven into the cove on December 20th. The dolphins were reportedly held for several days as the selection process for captive facilities commenced, resulting in at least 30 individuals being taken alive into captivity. Tragically, when the selection process ended on December 23rd, at least 30 dolphins had died, victims of stress and trauma associated with the chase, confinement, rough handling, injury and suffocation in the nets during the selection process. An estimated 20 dolphins were released back to sea, their fate uncertain after the trauma of three days in the cove.

This recent drive and selection of bottlenose dolphins reveals the cruelty associated with the entire drive hunt process, from chase out at sea, to confinement and handling in the cove. Despite claims that this herding process is humane, trauma, injury and death can result from the capture and selection process alone, separate from the actual killing methods employed by the fishermen who dispatch the dolphins for their meat. 

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.

With these recent hunts, since the start of the season on September 1st, at least 474 dolphins have been driven into the cove in Taiji, Japan. Of this total, at least 300 have been slaughtered or have died during the process, and 90 have been taken alive into captivity.

Despite the recent decision by JAZA-member aquaria not to acquire dolphins from these brutal hunts, it is clear that the Taiji Whale Museum and other non-JAZA aquaria continue this bloody process. Last season, 80 dolphins from the hunts were taken alive into captivity, a number already surpassed in this current year with several months still left in the hunt season.

Although the drive hunts may run into the month of April (for pilot whales), the beginning of January will signal the onset of the last few months of the hunting season which will hopefully end in February or early March. Hunting quotas set for the 2015-16 season 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.