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.
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.
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.
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