Tradition or travesty: dolphin killings in Japan

Following the recent Oscar for The Cove, Charles Timko takes a closer look at Taiji.

Japan is constantly evolving. Referred to as the “Land of the Rising Sun”, Japan is known for leading the world in innovation and technology, for continuing to move forward into the future and for fervently blazing the way with new trends and ideas.

Japan is also a land of tradition and is proud of its ancient cultural background. Sometimes, it holds on to ancient traditions and customs, which seem to contradict the country’s efforts to lead the way into the future. It is this blend of the old and new which makes Japan the interesting and intriguing place it is today.

Unfortunately, some of Japan’s ancient traditions are still being practiced when they probably should have been retired a long time ago. One tradition travelers to Japan should be aware of is the Taiji dolphin slaughters.

Taiji

The small town of Taiji, located in the Higashimuro District of Wakayama, is a place of picturesque beauty and hidden horrors. To travelers not aware of its dark secret, Taiji could easily be viewed as just another quaint, historic Japanese village. However, this is not the case. Beginning in September of every year dolphins and small whales are corralled by fisherman and slaughtered in the coves that dot the Taiji shores.

Taiji dolphin slaughter - the cove

Red waters at the Taiji dolphin slaughter

Hundreds of dolphins are killed in these coves between September and March. Fishermen slay the dolphins by driving a pin into their necks, by slashing their throats with knives or by spearing them with long harpoons from their boats. In addition, members of the international dolphin display industry attend these dolphin slaughters to purchase show-quality dolphins for use in captive dolphin shows and dolphin swim programs; the dolphins not selected are slaughtered. This is the largest scale dolphin slaughter in the world and unfortunately very few know it even takes place. Even in Japan, not many people are aware of this atrocity occurring.

How is it possible for these acts to continue to take place? The answer is not simple, yet it is fair to say that in large part this problem persists due to lack of education, and a lack of knowledge about what is taking place in Japan. Basically, the Japanese government does not want the international community to become aware of the annual slaughter. It is up to everyone, especially travelers visiting Japan, to spread the word.

Japan is not alone in hunting cetaceans, which are any of an order of aquatic mammals that includes whales, porpoises, dolphins, and related forms (Merriam Webster). But it’s fair to say that Japan is a global leader when it comes to continuing these practices.

It has been argued that the Japanese are keeping an ancient tradition alive by allowing these slaughters to continue, but the case that they are killing dolphins for “the preservation of tradition” isn’t a strong one.

Killed for food?

Unlike expensive whale meat, dolphin meat is not considered a delicacy in Japan. In fact, even those who continue to eat whale rarely, if ever, desire to eat dolphin. In addition to the fact that dolphin meat is not sought after and often winds up disguised as pricier whale meat in larger cities, dolphin is heavily tainted with mercury and is toxic if consumed by humans in large portions. Regular dolphin consumption can lead to mercury poisoning and cause birth defects if eaten by pregnant women.

What can I do?

Travelers are not allowed anywhere near the coves where the killings take place and are not encouraged to seek information about this “cultural tradition” of dolphin hunting in the town of Taiji. Also, harsh punishments can result if travelers are too inquisitive around the Taiji coves. It is recommended that you don’t get involved in any protests or activist movements when visiting Japan, because arrests and imprisonment may result, followed by deportation.

However, steps can be taken for travelers who are interested in finding out more and helping to end these slaughters.

  • Understand what is happening in Taiji, but also be aware that this issue is not widely known in Japan. Don’t blame the general population of Japan for what a few are doing.
  • Avoid shows and parks with captive dolphins and whales. Supporting such establishments only makes the problem worse and there are far better ways to experience wildlife through ecotourism companies.
  • Finally, do not consume or purchase any dolphin or whale meat. It is dangerous and only helps confirm the fishermen’s false claim there is a need for it. With no demand there is no market and no excuse for any more slaughters to take place.

Please remember that it is imperative for travelers worldwide to know what is taking place in Taiji. Not only is the killing of dolphins a tragedy, but it plays on a false claim of cultural preservation and only helps to encourage the idea that traditions in any shape or form should be continued. Toleration and cultural acceptance is very important when traveling, but so is being able to make changes for the better.

If you would like to learn more about the Taiji Dolphin Slaughters check out these websites:

Photo courtesy of Save the Dolphins newsletter.
Editor’s note: We encourage debate in the comments, but editors reserve the right to moderate comments without justification. Keep it polite and on topic, please.

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36 Responses to “Tradition or travesty: dolphin killings in Japan”

  1. MAURA CONNOLLY March 16, 2010 at 3:15 am #

    THANK YOU CHARLES ,I WAS UN AWARE OF THIS AWFUL PRACTICE.THANK YOU FOR THE INFORMATION!

    • Kaylee December 2, 2010 at 10:31 am #

      Charles, im kaylee and i would like to say your doing a great job:)

    • Andre March 6, 2012 at 5:07 pm #

      pls, pls, pls put it on yr facebook…so friends can see. Lets use facebokk to something real good, prevent the killings…
      I have sailed many oceans and i do love the company of dolphins or whales and have many stories to tell……..

      ITS A CRIME!!!!!!!!!!!

  2. Mark H March 16, 2010 at 1:26 pm #

    I have seena few photos of this in the past. A terrible practice that the world seems unable to stop.

    • john November 18, 2011 at 7:17 pm #

      World can stop if people do not want to see dolphins in aquarium.
      People in taiji makes money by selling dolphins to SeaWorld UNITES STATES

  3. Rebecca March 17, 2010 at 9:13 am #

    This is just wrong. More people should know about this. Dolphins are not food. Dolphins are the smartest and most beauitful creatures on earth. This is disgusting. Instead of the president worrying about stupid health care that will ruin this country. He should be out in Japan making it illegal to hunt dolphins and stopping these people. There are only like 30 people doing this every year. I say they should be arrested so they can never do this again. Its just wrong.

    • taylor January 27, 2011 at 6:44 pm #

      i deffinetly agree with u

  4. Nancie (Ladyexpat) March 24, 2010 at 6:45 pm #

    This is just morbid.

  5. liz April 16, 2010 at 6:57 pm #

    its not like 30 people, its hundreds. and Obama is not president of Japan, so he cant just waltz in and act like he is the person with authority. he cant change the laws there. there is only 30 people in that cove, which is not really the biggest slaughter of this kind. i know its wrong, but the cops or the president of america cant fix it. the best thing to do would be to get full scale media in there and blow the whole organization up underneath them. but with like the japanese news, not just some random americans making a movie.

    • Emma March 23, 2011 at 10:27 pm #

      The USA and Obama are the first to stick their oar in if it concerns them financially-especially when it concerns oil. Unfortunately, they do not want to stick their noses in a humanitarian concern. This includes the soldiers from the USA and UK that lose that lives. Obama is a coward.

  6. Ryan June 16, 2010 at 2:34 am #

    They have to be stopped, who cares if it is tradition. The oceans are in need of our help. I am more than willing to get arrested and deported if I can save a dolphin. The only thing stopping me is the cost it will cost to get there. If your not an activist your an in-activist. I encourage everyone to watch The Cove.
    In the famous words as stated in the Cove ” A dolphins smile is the worlds greatest deception”.
    XxPeacexX

    • Emma March 23, 2011 at 10:30 pm #

      This slaughter is not a Japanese tradition. It is simply a “sport” that these sick “fishermen” enjoy.

  7. Charlotte June 30, 2010 at 9:05 pm #

    No! No! No! This is such a horrible scene. Though we can all point the finger a Japan, lets consider behaviors across the globe. We have duck hunting, game fishing, deer hunting, fox hunting, and so on. All in the name of sport! I have observed so call ed intelligent men absolutely elated at the idea of catching and displaying the wonderful and beautiful Barracuda, all in the name of sport. At least Japan actually eat their catch! As far as hunting for food. Why can’t we reestablish “catch what you cant eat” rule, this will encourage some grass roots positive behavior by our race and again people will eat what is available in heir local environment as opposed to the global need to eat what we like when we want it. Come on!

    • Emma March 23, 2011 at 10:34 pm #

      Most hunters eat what they catch or give it to friends/family to cook. They do not simply massacre thousands of animals for no reason and pass it off as something else. We are not being poisoned by eating roast pheasant (etc) in the UK.

    • ang January 3, 2012 at 4:12 am #

      hunting is one thing. they hoard 20000 plus dolphins and what they dont sell they slaughter. THAT IS NOT OKAY! at least let the rest go!!!!!

  8. Mr Samui July 13, 2010 at 4:30 am #

    Charlotte you are so right yet there are some species that we just should eliminate from our diets. Perhaps this article is clearly saying the Dolphin, the beautiful Dolphin is one.

    • ang January 3, 2012 at 4:13 am #

      karma is a bitch

  9. Tiajh July 20, 2010 at 6:20 pm #

    this is shocking and needs to be stoped, what we can we do to help? would it make a diffrence if i made a potion and sent it off, and who could i send it to, email me asap i am willing to help as much as i can. thank you

  10. paige September 20, 2010 at 8:35 am #

    this is so wrong the united states government should talk to the japanese governmet to do something about it.

    • Candy January 26, 2011 at 11:57 pm #

      Only the UN can do something

    • Destiny February 9, 2011 at 12:12 pm #

      They have tried to talk to them, but they don’t listen. I watched a show about this and they talked about the killing and trying to convince the people that its wrong and no one listened.

    • Emma March 23, 2011 at 10:38 pm #

      Not only the US government but the UN! The USA do not rule the world!

      • Emily June 12, 2012 at 8:45 am #

        agreed…we all need to participate in this and raise awareness – The Cove came out 2 years ago and I only just got round to watching it. The best thing we can do is to spread the message ourselves!

  11. Candy January 26, 2011 at 11:54 pm #

    The Whaling comitee needs to recognize dolphins as whales, this will put an end to this terrible unlawful practice, to contribute sign my petition on petition online.

    -Candy

  12. Destiny February 9, 2011 at 12:10 pm #

    This is so wrong. I don’t understand why these people have to kill thousands of dolphins, if the meat isn’t that important. And the fact that most of the people in Japan don’t even know about the killings. Makes it even worse. This is horrible and it needs to come to an end. we have to do what ever it takes to stop this.

    • Harrieeeet February 28, 2011 at 1:21 pm #

      i agree!

  13. Harrieeeet February 28, 2011 at 1:20 pm #

    thank you for this information!

    i am doing an english project in which we have to create an agument against a topic we feel very strongly about. i decided to do about the dolphin and animal slaughter at this destination for it is the largest slaughter of sea creatures in the world. well, to my understanding.

    anyway; this information has helped me alot in my quest for the best project. once again. Thanks! :)

  14. Mike Wood March 8, 2011 at 4:51 am #

    I’ve just seen The Cove on DSTV. I think people can do far more than your web site advocates. (‘Don’t eat dolphin meat’ – err, yes!). While it is true that we should not blame the entire Japanese population for the actions of a few blood thirsty fishermen, pressure can only be exerted by hitting the government of Japan where it hurts. That means if we truly care about the fate of 23,000 dolphins each year we must not buy Japanese goods. No Toyotas, Nissans, Mutsubishis, Sony and a thousand other quality manufacturers. It’s hard because the Japanese make good products that we want. But only when their exports dip substantially as a mark of our distaste for their “culture” will the dolphin hunt stop. I’m surprised too that this website doesn’t advise sending individual protests to named Embassy officials throughout the world. I did so here in S Africa, but the recipient of my letter did not give me the courtesy of a reply. Shows how much they care.

  15. Craig and Linda March 9, 2011 at 2:15 am #

    Hi Mike,

    Good to hear your thoughts. While the author has posted some action points, this site isn’t an activist site: we’d prefer to raise the issue and let your conscience choose the change you’ll make.

    While a personal economic sanction may work, it would have to be carefully orchestrated with strong PR … Not just random people not buying things. In any case, this would hurt the millions of people living in Japan more than focus on the fisheries or appropriate government agencies: and I, personally, don’t think that would help. Another major economic power falling further into recession, anyone?

    Shame on your government representative for not even acknowledging your letter! That seems a fair way to make your feelings known in the right places … but one would expect response!

    As stated in the articles, further resources (and activism ideas) can be found at http://www.savejapandolphins.org/index.php and http://thecovemovie.com/

    ~Craig

  16. Mike Wood March 10, 2011 at 7:41 am #

    Well, actually I don’t care if the Japanese people are hurt. The overriding interest is to end barbarous dolphin hunting. It will make me feel better if I stop buying Japanese products, as I know that governments will do sod all to help. If enough people outside Japan act on their conscience, then those within might start to exert pressure on their own government to intervene in Taiji. I agree however that publicity needs to be attached to any orchestrated trade boycott.

    /redacted by CM. Inappropriate and off-topic./

  17. Charles Timko March 10, 2011 at 11:03 am #

    Hello everyone,
    It is good to see that so many of you are so passionate about saving the dolphins in Taiji and preserving other cetaceans around the world! Without dedicated individuals like yourselves it is impossible to make a positive change in the world today. That being said, I applaud your efforts and pledges.

    However, I do want to make it clear that even though these hunts are very tragic (I am as outraged with the animal cruelty as anyone else) we must not lose our tempers and act out rashly. The ones committing these terrible acts are few in number, and much of the Japanese population is still ignorantly unaware of the terrible acts taking place in Taiji.

    It is our job as concerned individuals to help educate the Japanese and the world about the horrible slaughters and others acts that harm the environment. It is only with mutual understanding and persistence that progress is made, not through acts of violence and revenge.

    As I stated above these are some of the best ways to show your support:
    • Understand what is happening in Taiji, but also be aware that this issue is not widely known in Japan. Don’t blame the general population of Japan for what a few are doing.
    • Avoid shows and parks with captive dolphins and whales. Supporting such establishments only makes the problem worse and there are far better ways to experience wildlife through ecotourism companies.
    • Finally, do not consume or purchase any dolphin or whale meat. It is dangerous and only helps confirm the fishermen’s false claim there is a need for it. With no demand there is no market and no excuse for any more slaughters to take place.
    A final note: Again I am happy that my article has inspired so many and I hope that you share this message with your friends and family. The more who know what is happening the better!
    For more information and updates please visit: http://www.savejapandolphins.org/

  18. Kiren John Glover June 13, 2011 at 12:21 pm #

    Hello everyone, please sign this petition on Facebook:
    http://apps.facebook.com/causes/petitions/252
    Your sign can stop this madness and save the dolphins lives from the killers. You can make a difference.

  19. Nexus October 17, 2011 at 11:58 am #

    I would get in between a dolphin hunter and the dolphins if it means putting a stop to this genocide. Those poor animals have suffered enough, it`s time to stop it at once!

  20. DC October 25, 2011 at 6:14 pm #

    I’m wondering how did they legally export the thermal vision from the U.S.? I want one so bad T.T

  21. Peter October 30, 2011 at 3:20 pm #

    If you want to make a effect and put a stop to killing dolphins…. We should all stop buying Japanese products; cars, TV, camera, play station, ect………and soon you will see dolphins are saved, because Japanese economy dependence on exports….. and they will quickly enforce a law to stop killing dolphins….

  22. tyler January 22, 2012 at 10:04 pm #

    if you have actually seen the documentary, “the cove” then you know that it isn’t actually part of the japanese traditions! they interviewed many of them on the streets of japan and they all said they’d never even heard of it and it was definitely not tradition in their culture! and yes if we really want to stop it the only way is not going to pay to see these beautiful animals in places like sea world or any aquariums as well as resorts where you “swim with dolphins”. all of those events are the reason that dolphins are sold out of japan and those horrible people are getting away with it! supply and demand!!!!! lets stop it now, together!!

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