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Dead sperm whale in The Wash, East Anglia, England. © CSIP-ZSL.

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Captures and killing continue in Taiji

In August we reported that the yearly atrocities occurring in Taiji, Japan known as the dolphin drive hunts were about to begin, just before this season’s six months of cruelty and death. Since then, a reported 69 whales and dolphins have been ripped from their homes in the wild to be sold into appalling captivity for human amusement around the world, while nearly 200 individuals have been brutally slaughtered. We can only imagine what the figures will look like by the end of the season, each representing an intelligent and emotionally aware individual that has had to suffer unimaginable and unnecessary pain in the name of food, entertainment and tradition.  

The violence and distress these incredible creatures have to endure alone is enough for these hunts to be condemned. As science has furthered our understanding of the complexity of the brains of whales and dolphins and their capacity for emotional experience, the extent of grief and agony caused by these hunts has become even more apparent. In 2013 Diana Reiss, a City University psychologist (New York) studying dolphin behaviour stated in an article for the New Scientist that scientific knowledge has now “demonstrated their sophisticated cognitive abilities including self and social awareness” and so “the killing of dolphins is indefensible”. 


Helping to spread this new found understanding are influential individuals such as Game of Thrones star Maisie Williams who has recently visited the cove in Taiji. Williams has been speaking out against attending marine shows where the drive hunt’s captured dolphins end up. She passionately talks about how “no tank will ever be big enough…deep enough, ever be exciting enough”. With her four million Instagram and 1.5 million Twitter followers she hopes to open eyes around the world to the devastation that is occurring, stating that the cause has “struck a chord” in her heart.   

WDC has been and continues to be involved in taking steps to try to spread awareness of the hunts and put an end to the pointless suffering. Following the publication of our Driven by Demand report, linking drive hunts to captures for the captivity industry, we began a years’ long dialogue with the World Association of Zoos and Aquariums (WAZA) which resulted in WAZA’s suspension of the Japanese Association of Zoos and Aquariums from official membership in April 2015 due to affiliation with aquaria that took dolphins from the hunt. Such achievements are encouraging but a great deal more needs to happen for us to see an end to these inhumane activities. 

A recent article by the Japan Times demonstrates the importance of continued outreach and discussion of the true nature of the hunts with the Japanese public. The article repeated the claims that a “new” killing method improved animal welfare and time to death. This is in spite of clear evidence that the new method likely prolongs suffering in dolphins, as demonstrated in a veterinary and behavioural analysis, published by prominent scientists, including WDC colleagues. In addition, the available scientific data proves that the process of the hunts, including the chase, encirclement and final live capture or killing of the dolphins, results in extreme physiological and psychological stress for the individuals and their social groups, which can have long-lasting consequences for the surviving dolphins. 

Please sign our petition to prevent airlines from transporting dolphins caught from these hunts and help us to keep these magnificent creatures wild, happy and free.

About Cathy Williamson

Cathy Williamson was policy manager of our End Captivity Programme until July 2021.