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Bottlenose dolphins © Christopher Swann

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Dolphin Drive Hunt Season Nears its end in Taiji

As the month of February comes to an end and another March begins, we hold our collective breath, waiting for a signal that the brutal dolphin drive hunt season has come to an end—at least for this year—and providing an unfortunate opportunity to take stock of the devastating toll these hunts continue to take on dolphin populations around the coastline of Japan. 

The drive hunt season is excruciatingly long. The season officially commences in September and extends through February of each year for every species but the pilot whale; the pilot whale drive hunt season officially continues through April, and sometimes even into May as the fishermen have discretion whether to extend the season in order to fill authorized annual quotas 

Like every drive hunt season, this season has offered no reprieve for the whales and dolphins victimized by the chase, capture and slaughter of entire families and social groups over the course of the past six months. Since the start of the season on September 1st, a total of 884 dolphins from five different species have been driven into the cove in Taiji, Japan. Of this total, 652 were slaughtered, 121 were released and 111 have been taken alive into captivity. 

And we must not forget that the drive hunt is just one method utilized by Japan in its relentless assault on whale and dolphin populations along its coastline. When not engaged in the drive hunts, fishermen in Taiji also participate in harpoon hunts and small type coastal whaling for dolphins, false killer whales, and pilot whales. These authorized 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 2015-16 is 15,066 individuals. Total numbers of whales and dolphins taken this season will not be available until the official statistics from the Japanese Fisheries Agency are released.

Although this is the first season to test the agreement between the Japanese Association of Zoos and Aquariums (JAZA) and its member facilities, requiring them not to acquire dolphins from the dolphin drive hunts if they wish to remain under the Association’s umbrella, it is not clear from initial reports from the ground whether any JAZA-member facilities violated this agreement. This agreement came about after the World Association of Zoos and Aquariums (WAZA) suspended JAZA’s membership with the threat of expulsion if JAZA-member facilities did not refrain from collecting dolphins from the drive hunts. Collection from the drive hunts is a violation of WAZA’s code of ethics, and the zoo association finally took action in late April 2105 to formally reprimand JAZA for its ongoing association with the drive hunts by suspending its membership. In order to avoid full expulsion from WAZA, JAZA decided to comply with WAZA’s mandate at the end of May 2015, and was reinstated into WAZA membership in July 2015. JAZA has said that it will expel aquariums that continue to use dolphins caught in drive hunts and will start promoting the breeding of dolphins.

We are working to document whether any JAZA facilities did violate this agreement over the course of this last season.

Unfortunately, in the wake of JAZA’s positive decision to comply with WAZA’s mandate for membership, a new aquarium association has been announced within Japan that is meant to consolidate all aquaria that wish to continue sourcing from the dolphin drive hunts, allowing business as usual to occur at the killing cove and undermining any positive influence JAZA’s agreement might provide to other aquaria in Japan. By attempting to legitimize the ongoing practice of acquiring live dolphins from these deadly hunts, this new association referred to as the Japan Cetacean Research Association, led by dolphin brokers such as the Taiji Whale Museum, will continue to condemn the lives of hundreds of whales and dolphins annually to death and permanent confinement in concrete tanks. 

Dolphins from the drive hunts are being shipped within Japan and all over the globe to captive facilities and swim-with-the-dolphin programs. In 2015, at least 60 dolphins, most of them presumably from Taiji, were exported from Japan to the international destinations, including South Korea, China, Vietnam, Thailand and Bahrain.

Even though observation and common sense provides us with all of the evidence we need to determine that the entire drive hunt process, from chase at sea, to confinement and handling in the cove, is cruel and inhumane, WDC has provided a summary of available scientific literature revealing the impacts of chase and capture on dolphins to Japanese authorities, as well as to JAZA and WAZA. This information is crucial towards dismantling claims, and the ongoing debate, that live captures as part of the drive hunts can be conducted humanely. Live captures are just one part of a traumatic and bloody process wrought by the dolphin drive hunts.

WDC is working to eliminate all captures of dolphins from the wild, and especially from the dolphin drive hunts in Taiji.