The Town of Taiji
Geographically, Taiji is located in southeastern Japan within the Wakayama Prefecture. Taiji is renowned for its scenic beauty and is a popular holiday destination in the summer months. However, this picturesque town conceals a dark secret – the blood and suffering of entire pods of of dolphins and small whales is on their hands. Tourists travel from all areas of Japan to visit the coastal town of Taiji; little do they know, they are swimming in the deathbed of thousands of innocent beings.
Evidence shows that whale and dolphin hunting has occurred within the area for centuries, however the practice of dolphin “drive hunting” as it exists there today only began to develop in the late 1960s, just as the global aquarium industry was beginning to boom. It is argued by the dolphin hunters of Taiji that this form of commercial hunting is an ancient practice, however that is simply untrue. The current practice of drive hunting is not even as old as some of the men who practice it.
Humans place importance on “culture” and “traditions,” and Japan is particularly wedded to this ideal. However, the fact that a practice has been carried out for many years does not make it right, nor does it warrant continuing that practice if it is found to be morally wrong. Human slavery is a strong example of something that occurred for a very long time and has since been determined to be immoral and unethical. In the case of the drive hunting of cetaceans, though, there is not even a legitimate claim to antiquity. To call the dolphin drive hunt “cultural” is simply a lie. The emergence of Taiji’s drive hunt in the late 1960s, coinciding with the surge in global demand for captive dolphins, shows that this hunt began and is continued for one reason only – greed.
Worldwide, there are only a few countries that still allow the commercial or widespread killing of cetaceans today. Other countries that were once major whaling nations have since ended the practice. Iceland, Norway, the Danish Faroe Islands, and Japan continue to conduct large-scale commercial whaling. Japan has been the most flagrant of the bunch, sending commercial whaling fleets into the North Pacific and Southern Oceans each year under the guise of science. On March 31, 2014, the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in The Hague ruled that Japan’s Southern Ocean whale hunt under JARPA II has not been conducted for the purpose of scientific research and therefore violates the global moratorium on commercial whaling established by the International Whaling Commission (IWC), ordering that all permits under JARPA II be revoked. Japan also authorizes and supports the hunting of whales and smaller cetaceans in its coastal waters.
Sea Shepherd is neither anti-Japanese nor opposed to any nation or group of people. We are against the killing of cetaceans, no matter the nationality of the hunters.
Killing Nation, Killing Town
On March 11, 2011, a tsunami destroyed much of the infrastructure associated with this slaughter. It is yet to be seen if the slaughter will be restored to its pre-earthquake numbers.
Taiji accounts for as many as approximately 2,000 of the 20,000 cetaceans killed in Japan annually, depending on the quota that is set yearly. In recent years, the captures for captivity and death numbers have been averaging about 1,600. The annual dolphin drive-hunt season runs for a staggering six months, beginning on September 1 and typically running until March of the following year. Coastal whaling is then undertaken for the remaining six months of the year in which small whaling vessels carry out harpooning of cetaceans.
Each year the dolphin hunters request a permit to hunt dolphins in Taiji and the Governor of Wakayama Prefecture then issues the hunters with an approved permit. The catch limit is a self-allocated quota established by the hunters, and there is no evidence that science or sustainability are given any serious consideration during the permit approval process. It appears that the hunters simply request and suggest the number of dolphins they want to take and the governor quickly issues the permit.
Most of the dolphins and small whales captured in the Taiji dolphin drive hunts are killed and the meat is sold for human consumption, though the number of dolphins captured for the captive industry has risen substantially in recent years, due to the growing international demand from marine parks. As the demand for dolphin and whale meat drops, it is the highly profitable captive trade that allows the hunt to continue.
Respected scientists around the world warn of the high levels of mercury and other contaminants found in dolphin and whale meat, however some Taiji locals ignore these warnings and continue to consume the meat. A common argument is that there are plenty of elderly people in the town who have consumed dolphin meat all their lives, and unsuspecting people are unfortunately led by propaganda served to them by the Japanese government, which continues to claim that the mercury in dolphins and whale meat does not pose a significant health threat.
Taiji is a very small town, even by small town standards. There are approximately 28 men involved in the dolphin hunts. Though there are many supporters of the drive hunts, there are also many people in Japan who oppose them and others who are unaware of what is happening in the cove. Not everyone in Taiji appreciates the negative attention attracted by the handful of dolphin hunters, not only in their town but also in their country. These migrating dolphins do not belong to Taiji; they are citizens of the world and of the oceans.
Sea Shepherd is committed to continuing to shine a global spotlight on the town of Taiji and its infamous dolphin killing cove – and the international captive trade that drives the hunting boats in search of pods – in order to apply worldwide pressure upon Japan to shut this atrocity down.