Frequently Asked Questions about Dolphin Hunts

How many dolphins does Japan catch?

The Japanese government gives permits to fishermen to hunt more than 20,000 small whales, dolphins and porpoises in its coastal waters each year. The annual number fluctuates somewhat, and this year’s (2015/16) total allowable catch in all hunts and for all species in Japan is 15,066 whales and dolphins.

Which whales and dolphins are hunted in Japan?

80% of the small whales and dolphins killed off the Japanese coast are Dall’s porpoises. Other species include short-finned pilot whales, false killer whales, bottlenose, Pacific white-sided, striped, common, spotted and Risso’s dolphins.

How are they killed?

In one method, called Drive Hunts, fishermen frighten and corral the dolphins into a bay using loud noise, by banging on long pipes held in the water. The dolphins are then trapped in bays (or coves) using large nets, preventing their escape. They are killed after being dragged to shore by their tails using an instrument called a spinal lance that attempts to sever their spinal cord. Dall’s porpoises are killed using hand-thrown harpoons attached to ropes – this is the biggest slaughter of whales and dolphins in the world.

Where do dolphin hunts take place?

There are eight provinces in Japan which are involved in the hunts: Chiba, Aomori, Hokkaido, Iwate, Miyagi, Okinawa, Shizuoka and Wakayama. Currently, the drive hunts only take place in Wakayama, in the fishing village of Taiji. A second fishing village in Shizuoka prefecture, Futo, stopped the hunts in 2004, to a large extent after video footage revealing the cruelty of the hunts, in 1999, began an international wave of protest. However, the quotas remain in place and they could go hunting again.

Why does Japan catch so many dolphins?

Some supermarkets in Japan offer dolphin meat for sale, even though this meat is often heavily contaminated with mercury and other toxins. In order to increase consumption, the Japanese government has even distributed whale and dolphin meat to canteens in schools and hospitals - despite the health risks for consumers. Japanese fishermen also catch and kill dolphins because they believe they eat too many fish and so the slaughter is a form of pest control. Fishermen also catch dolphins to sell to aquaria and dolphinaria in Japan and elsewhere for public display and interaction programmes such as swimming with dolphins. Claims that these activities are traditional are also used to justify these hunts.

Does the Japanese public know about this?

The majority of the Japanese public do not know the extent of the hunts, how cruel they are or how highly polluted the dolphin meat may be. Some do not even know the hunts take place at all. The quantities of mercury in some dolphin meat exceed the Japanese recommended maximum of 0.4ppm (parts per million). Dolphin meat is also often mislabelled as whale meat, which is considered better quality.

But in other parts of the world we kill cows and other animals?

Although WDC cannot comment on the welfare of cattle or other animals slaughtered in the UK or elsewhere, whales and dolphins are wild animals living in distinct populations and in many cases little research has been carried out on their status or how these hunts may affect their survival. They also have complicated social structures and in some instances specific cultures. It is not known what effects the hunting or capture and removal of individuals from these populations has on the welfare and conservation status of the remaining animals. Also, unlike domestic animals which in most countries, including Japan, are subject to protection from inhumane slaughter methods and treatment, whales and dolphins have no such protection from regulations and laws regarding killing techniques that are cruel and painful.

What role do dolphinaria have in the drive hunts?

Dolphinaria make the drive hunts in Taiji lucrative. While demand for dolphin meat is small (approx. US$400 per dolphin), live dolphins, once trained, can be sold for up to US$150,000. In 2004, 23 bottlenose dolphins were taken from the Taiji dolphin hunts to become imprisoned in dolphinaria. 

Increasingly, more dolphins are being taken into captivity, revealing the role of dolphinaria in supporting these hunts. In 2009, over 100 dolphins were taken for aquaria, and in 2011, over 200 were taken alive into captivity from these hunts.

But don’t dolphinaria claim they are rescuing the dolphins from the hunts?

WDC believes that this is untrue based on the large sums of money paid by aquaria for individual whales and dolphins captured alive from these hunts. Instead of rescue, facilities are contributing to the perpetuation of these hunts that are incentivised by the large sums offered for live dolphins.

How do dolphins suffer in captivity?

In the wild dolphins can easily travel up to 100km a day, spend only about 20% of their time above water, and can reach speeds of up to 60 km/h. In captivity their movements and choices are significantly reduced, leading to boredom, stress and aggression between pool-mates and towards their trainers. The water quality in some dolphinaria can be so poor that they develop skin conditions and ulcers. They are fed dead fish and have to undergo fertility and medical treatment. Most captive dolphins are on a perpetual regiment of antibiotics and anti-anxiety medications. Life in the wild can not be recreated in captivity. In addition, dolphins are transported long distances between facilities, sometimes dying in the long process.

Is Dolphin Assisted Therapy (DAT) useful?

More and more frequently dolphins are being caught for use in DAT programmes. Dolphinaria claim that these therapies can be used as a treatment for illness and disability but there is no scientific evidence to suggest any long-term benefits, and there are no standards to ensure the welfare of either the people or the dolphins taking part.