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Loved and killed – whales and dolphins in Japan

Protests and criticism from outside Japan in response to the slaughter of whales and dolphins have not only failed to stop the killing, but also raised resistance within Japan to ending the slaughter.

So at Whale and Dolphin Conservation we're taking a different approach. WDC campaigner Katrin Matthes is on the ground in Japan working alongside Japanese activists and organisations to develop a strategy to stop the hunts from inside the country.

I have worked with WDC, for just over a year now and have been responsible for our work to end Japan’s dolphin and whale hunts since August 2022. As I have spent several years of my life in Japan and speak the language, I know the country and the culture well. WDC has campaigned to stop the hunts for many years and sadly, it’s often a frustrating task. But a lot has changed in the world, especially in recent years − including in Japan. So to make sure our efforts lead to positive and lasting change, it's time to get an up-to-date picture of the country and network with like-minded people.

Katrin Matthes in Taiji, Japan.

Our mission

We must first understand the role whale and dolphin hunting plays in Japanese culture. Why does it continue? How has activism developed within Japan? What can we learn from like-minded people on the ground and how can we support them? Just a few of the questions I took with me to Japan. With the answers, we at WDC will develop the best possible strategy for our work to stop the slaughter.

With Japan dropping the pretence of ‘research whaling’ and openly resuming commercial whaling in 2019 and hundreds of dolphins and small whales hunted every year in the infamous cove in Taiji, we have no time to waste. We made a conscious decision not to travel to Japan for the annual Taiji hunting season between September and March. At that time it would have been difficult to meet Japanese activists and to exchange ideas. Besides, there are already many people documenting the hunts and taking a stand through their presence. More is not always better in some cases. Especially if you show up there as a foreign NGO.

Tajij whalers rounding up dolphins before the slaughter
In Taiji, dolphins and small whales are slaughtered for meat or hand-picked to live out their lives in a dolphinarium. © Kunito
Whaling in Taiji Japan

Please donate - you can help end the whale and dolphin hunts

Hardened fronts

Taiji has gained international notoriety for its cruel dolphin hunts through the documentary film 'The Cove'. The images of the blood-red bay shocked the world in 2009. As a result, more and more activists, from Japan and all over the globe, showed up there to protest against the horrific hunts. However, protests, public expressions of opinion and active conflict are not at all in keeping with Japan's reserved culture. Sharp criticism and insults unfortunately quickly created hardened fronts. For this reason, it is important to us at WDC not to condemn or portray the people involved in the hunts as monsters.

The hunts are cruel and the people in the region do not rely on the meat of the dolphins for their sustenance. Plus dolphin meat has high levels of mercury, making its consumption a health hazard. Not to mention the impact on dolphin populations and the associated marine ecosystems. The situation could be seen as similar, however, with conventional cattle farming on our own doorsteps. Cows are highly social and make friends for life. Their mass rearing produces methane in quantities that fuel the climate crisis. And no one in the UK or my home country of Germany is dependent on a diet of meat. Nevertheless, thousands of cattle die every day in our slaughterhouses. Accordingly, the criticism and protest against the dolphin hunt in Japan is mostly met with incomprehension. It is important that we keep our emotions in check, and, instead of accusations and insults, seek diplomatic exchange. Because we at WDC are convinced that this is the only way to open the doors for dialogue and change.

A lucrative business

The debate about meat as a food source is a difficult one. But not to be forgotten is another, perhaps more important, motivator for the annual hunts: the sale of live dolphins to the captivity industry. Dolphin shows are booming, especially in China and the Middle East. A bottlenose dolphin can fetch several thousand US dollars. So, if Taiji stopped catching dolphins, the coastal city would lose a significant income. In the example of Taiji, there are different interests involved that need to be considered in our strategy. The situation is complicated.

Dolphins in Taiji are secured in a small area before being killed or taken to an aquarium
Dolphiarium in Japan
Dolphin show in Japan

Dolphinariums are big business in Japan.

Change must come from within

This is exactly why the work of Japanese activists and organisations on the ground is so important. No one from abroad could ever penetrate Japanese culture, customs or social structures the way they do. We are convinced that change in Japan must be driven first and foremost by the Japanese. Our aim is to develop a strategy together with Japanese activists, organisations and like-minded people and to support it with joint education campaigns, public relations, projects and funding. Only by joining forces can we stand up to the dolphin hunts and commercial whaling and end them once and for all.

Katrin Matthes, Midori San and Meneto San from LIB
Suzuki-san is from JWCS and Sanada-san

Together, with Japanese activists and NGOs we can drive change.

Help us

If you want to support us in this, please do not visit any dolphinariums or other attractions, like swim-with-dolphins experiences, where whales and dolphins are kept in captivity. If you are offered meat or other products made from whales and dolphins while you are on holiday, please politely decline and do not be tempted by the pretext of a very special delicacy. Educate your family and friends about these issues, sign petitions and support campaigns to end the hunts. The more the demand for shows and whale and dolphin meat dwindles, the less profitable it will be for operators to maintain their supply. Help to ensure that whales and dolphins can live in freedom and safety around the beautiful, fascinating country of Japan.

Please help us today with a donation

You can help turn the tide in Japan and end the hunts.

About Katrin Matthes

Katrin koordiniert für uns die internationale Arbeit zu Japan. Ihr Hauptaugenmerk liegt auf der Beendigung des kommerziellen Walfangs und der Delfinjagden in Taiji. Katrin kümmert sich außerdem um die Bildungs- und Kinderinhalte auf unserer deutschen Website.