Why the Taiji dolphin hunt can never be justified
Supporters of the dolphin slaughter in Japan argue that killing a few hundred dolphins every year pales into insignificance compared with the millions of animals we slaughter for meat. WDC Germany campaigner Katrin Matthes gets under the skin of that argument and explains how we hope to end the hunts forever.
At least 560 dolphins were victims of the drive hunts in Japan between September 2022 and the end of February 2023. I expect you were horrified by the shocking images coming out of Taiji and devastated by the terrible injuries and deaths of juveniles and babies.
Striped dolphins, Risso’s dolphins and melon-headed whales made up the majority of those killed, with 476 dolphins of these species brutally slaughtered. Thirty bottlenose and three dolphins of other species were taken from the blood-filled waters for sale to dolphinariums and, for the first time in many years, bottlenose dolphins were also killed. The individuals who were captured alive were moved to small marine enclosures near Taiji while their family members were killed. There they are trained to entertain audiences in dolphin shows in Asia or the Middle East.
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We were able to follow the last season thanks to local activists, who documented the hunt and shared information and impressions online.
The images from 3rd February were particularly hard to bear. On that day, a group of striped dolphins was driven into the infamous cove. The dolphins panicked and many of them sustained clearly-visible injuries. One dolphin had such a bad fracture to the face that his or her snout looked completely deformed and torn open.
In addition, we also saw that many babies and youngsters were killed. Most of them were slaughtered together with the rest of their family. Others were separated from their families beforehand and then abandoned in the open sea. A death sentence. Their chances of survival without a mother and family members are zero.
The thousands of people around the world protesting this cruelty are seen as hypocritical, and our point of view incomprehensible, by the advocates of the drive hunts. They see the killing of a few hundred dolphins and small whales each year in the context of the many millions of farmed animals that are killed for human consumption all around the world. Here in Germany, for example, at least 150,000 highly intelligent pigs are slaughtered every day, and thousands of calves are torn from their mothers by the dairy industry. As far as improving the conditions under which these animals live and die is concerned, there is more than enough to do on our own doorsteps. The laws and regulations around animal welfare are far from sufficient and are not respected everywhere, but at least there are legal foundations on which efforts are made to avoid animal suffering, such as killing under anaesthetic.
The fact that there are hardly any requirements or regulations for the drive hunts in Taiji makes them particularly bad. If you imagine the dolphins in Taiji - injured, panicked or left alone to die in the sea - there is no question of avoiding pain. It is for this reason that the events in Taiji move people all over the world every year.
Even if the understanding of animal welfare and ethics varies in different cultures, the annual killing of hundreds of dolphins is an offence against nature. Supporters of the hunts claim that they are sustainable. However, if entire families are completely wiped out or family members who play a central role in the survival of the group are killed, this will have serious consequences for the population. This is because the elimination of entire groups has a lasting impact on the gene pool of the species.
Dolphins are also part of larger, complex ecosystems in which each individual plays an important role. If they disappear from the ecosystems, this will not only affect their own species, but also many other species. In the long run, the annual killing of hundreds of dolphins will not only lead to the disappearance of their own species, but also to the decline of many other marine species.
Our goal at WDC is to make the Japanese government finally realise that hunting dolphins, as well as whales, is an unnecessary offence against the ocean and its inhabitants. We are pioneering trailblazing research that highlights the irreplaceable role of whales and dolphins in the marine ecosystem and their role as our allies in fighting the climate and biodiversity crises. We are also working with Japanese colleagues to involve the Japanese people. Our vision is a Japan that expresses its close relationship with whales not on a plate, but in their protection.
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