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The Horror Behind The Curtain

New veterinary analysis of dolphin slaughter reveals shocking levels of cruelty.

Newly-released, independent analysis of killing methods used by fishermen involved in the dolphin drive hunts in Taiji, Japan has revealed disturbing levels of physical trauma and extreme cruelty that fall well below international standards for animal welfare.

Using information provided by Whale and Dolphin Conservation (WDC), together with undercover footage showing a fisherman repeatedly ramming a metal rod into the base of a dolphin’s head, a veterinary and behavioral analysis led by Dr. Andy Butterworth from the University of Bristol (UK) criticizing this killing method has now been published in the Journal of Applied Animal Welfare Science (JAAWS).

The shocking film footage reveals how the wound, caused by the insertion of the metal rod behind the dolphin’s blowhole, is then plugged with a wooden dowel to prevent unsightly bleeding into the water.

By comparing the video data obtained directly from the hunts (which occur annually from September to April) with data published in Japan, the analysis refutes claims that this new killing method results in a ‘quick death’ and instead examines the physical and behavioral impacts of these extremely inhumane procedures.

Dr. Butterworth and co-authors conclude that this method does not lead to a quick and painless death, contrary to reports from Japanese researchers. Instead, this brutal method leads to significant hemorrhaging and likely paralysis, and results in a slow death through trauma and gradual blood loss.

“Our analysis shows that this killing method does not conform to the recognized requirement for ‘immediate insensibility’ and would not be tolerated or permitted in any regulated slaughterhouse process in the developed world,” Dr. Butterworth concludes.

Therefore, the methods currently utilized in the drive hunts do not guarantee a swift and humane death, may prolong suffering, and do not conform to internationally-recognized animal welfare requirements.

The dolphin drive hunts in Japan involve the herding of dolphins at sea and driving and corralling them into the confines of the cove in Taiji. Here, behind curtains drawn across the cove, they are slaughtered for meat or kept alive for sale to marine parks across the globe.

“The killing of any dolphins in these hunts is unacceptable, but our research into the true nature of the particular killing methods utilized in the drive hunts in Taiji has confirmed our worst fears. This analysis verifies the unspeakable cruelty taking place behind the tarpaulins that are used to shield the slaughter each season,” said Courtney Vail, WDC programs and campaigns manager and co-author. “The dolphin drive hunts remind us that we have a very long way to go towards addressing the suffering associated with these and other hunts for dolphins and small whales around the globe.”

“It is a sad irony that in trying to find an improved killing method, but perhaps also to reduce the unsightly flow of blood into the water, the hunters have developed a new technique which likely exacerbates the suffering for the dolphins killed in these appalling hunts,” said WDC senior biologist and co-author, Philippa Brakes.

WDC continues its call for an immediate end to the dolphin drive hunts on welfare grounds alone. This scientific analysis underscores the fact that the killing methods used in the drive hunts are unacceptable by any country’s standards, including even Japan’s own humane slaughter guidelines. WDC believes that such suffering is intolerable in any civilized society, and the methods currently employed at Taiji are breathtakingly and exceptionally cruel and should solicit worldwide condemnation.

“The inhumane killing methods used in the dolphin drives are a blatant violation of any reasonable animal welfare standards and are indefensible given our scientific knowledge of dolphins which has demonstrated their sophisticated cognitive abilities including self and social awareness, cultural richness, and their capacity to experience pain and suffering,” said Dr. Diana Reiss, corresponding author on the paper and marine mammal scientist.

About George Berry

George is a member of WDC's Communications team and website coordinator.