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Humpback whale. Image: Christopher Swann

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Risso’s dolphins the first victims of the 2014 drive hunt season in Taiji, Japan

Unlike the beginning of the 2013 drive hunt season, where the first few weeks involved the round-up of approximately 30 bottlenose dolphins that were spared alive for a life in captivity, the beginning of the 2014 drive hunt season has thankfully been less eventful as poor weather and unsuccessful round-ups have allowed dolphins to elude the fishermen for the first few weeks in September. However, all of that changed on September 16th when 12 Risso’s dolphins were herded into the cove and subsequently slaughtered a short time later. 

Through an agreement between the WAZA and JAZA known as the Dolphin Management Protocol, the month of September is considered a month of reprieve for just bottlenose dolphins who are the focus of captures for captive facilities and are supposed to be spared from slaughter. Unfortunately, this ill-advised concession has only endorsed the killing and has legitimized the captures that occur alongside and in association with the drive hunts. 

Dolphin drive hunts, also known as the ‘drive fisheries,’ occur annually from September through April of each year in the coastal town of Taiji. The town of Futo also maintains a quota to conduct the drive hunts, but has not done so since 2004. During these hunts, dolphins are encircled by motorboats out at sea and are then chased and corralled into shallow waters where they are trapped with nets, dragged beneath tarpaulins, and then killed or hauled off live to be sold into captivity.

Every aspect of the hunt is extremely cruel, from the exhausting drive from the open ocean that can separate mothers and calves and other family groups, to confinement in a netted cove where the dolphins are crudely slaughtered. Last year, at least 834 dolphins were killed in the drive hunts, and 158 taken alive into captivity.

Killed for their meat, or as a form of ‘pest control’ where dolphins are considered competitors with local fisheries, the dolphins are often held for days before slaughter utilizing methods that do not meet even minimum international standards of care.

Hunting quotas have been set for the 2014-2015 season and allow for 1,938 dolphins to be taken in the drive hunts in Taiji alone. Of this total, over 950 bottlenose and striped dolphins may be killed, along with hundreds of other spotted, Risso’s, Pacific white-sided dolphins, false killer whales, and short-finned pilot whales. The town of Futo has been given a quota of 193 dolphins.

It is also important to note that when not engaged in the drive hunts, the fishermen in Taiji also participate in harpoon hunts and small type coastal whaling for dolphins, false killer whales and pilot whales. These harpoon hunts also occur elsewhere in Japan, effectively ensuring that Japan’s dolphins are assaulted and traumatized almost year-round by various hunting methods over the seasons. In fact, the total quota for all small whale and dolphin species allowed to be taken by all hunting methods (harpoon, drive hunts and coastal whaling) in Japan for 2014-2015 is 15,773 individuals.