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Pressure grows on dolphin hunts as German Minister speaks out

Just a day after the U.S. and U.K. Governments’ statements condemning the latest dolphin hunts in Taiji, Japan, the German Federal Agriculture Minister has also stepped forward with a statement condemning the hunts. Hans-Peter Friedrichs stated that the most recent pictures and reports from the Taiji drive hunts were “outrageous and shocking” and “Dolphins have to be protected.”  His comments join those of his diplomatic colleagues to raise the profile of the dolphin drive hunts within the highest political circles, and outside the failings of the IWC to address small whale and dolphin protection internationally.

Over 250 bottlenose dolphins were driven into the killing Cove over the weekend. Individuals from this large round-up have either been transported away to Dolphin Base and the Taiji Whale Museum where they will be held and trained for shipment to national or international facilities, killed for their meat, or driven back out to sea. Reportedly, 52 bottlenose dolphins were selected for aquaria, 41 slaughtered, and the rest released. It is likely that additional deaths will be counted in the tally, as oftentimes dolphins will strand after being driven back to sea, finally succumbing to the long and traumatic process. In this case, the dolphins were held for a period of four days, ending a long and painful process for some and serving as the beginning for others who will find themselves confined to a lifetime in captivity.

Perhaps more dramatic than the young albino dolphin captured during this hunt, a sign of innocence lost in her own right and appropriately nick-named named ‘Angel’, were the bold and definitive statements coming from diplomatic offices of first the U.S., and then the U.K. embassies. U.S. Ambassador Kennedy’s definitive statements made over Twitter represent the first real public statements from the U.S. Government against the drive hunts. Most importantly, these public statements, regardless of how they were delivered, focused on welfare concerns and the issue of the inhumaneness of these hunts.

Previously, government officials have engaged on the topic of small cetacean hunts within the realm of the International Whaling Commission (IWC) and other international fora, but have never made such bold and targeted statements specifically against the drive hunts. In the past, resolutions from the IWC have focused on sustainability concerns, but have fallen short in calling for a cessation to these hunts on welfare grounds.

WDC has been engaged with the U.S. State Department on the drive hunts, opening a constructive dialogue and briefing embassy staff on the issue.

Currently, extreme political deference is given to the protection and management of small cetaceans within a country’s national waters. For dolphins and other small cetaceans, there is no global protection agreement that will protect them from being herded into the killing cove each year. We hear time and again that these hunts are a legal and are therefore acceptable—an approach fully dismissive and neglectful of whether they are ethical or not. Every sovereign country can freely determine the fate of dolphins within their waters. However, whales and dolphins belong to no one, and to no country, and their exploitation is of legitimate concern to everyone, including the public.

It is why the very clear statements by Ambassadors Kennedy and Hitchens, and now Mr. Friedrich, give reason for hope. This bold and resolute cooperation of governments, expressing outrage and dismay at cruel customs that remain cloaked in claims of tradition, reminds us that inhumane practices can and should be addressed wherever they occur. It is time for true diplomatic dialogue regarding the dolphin hunts in Taiji, separate from the whaling politics at play within the IWC, and perhaps mediated through a multi-stakeholder approach that recognizes the interests of the global community in resolving this intractable conflict smoldering in Taiji.

Dolphins are under direct assault in Taiji, Japan, and WDC welcomes and supports these and other strong statements from the highest diplomatic levels within international governments. We are hopeful that other governments will make similar statements and place dolphin protection high on their agendas. Perhaps this is a signal that the moment has come that the dolphin drive hunts will finally receive the international attention they deserve.