The hunting and killing of bottlenose dolphins in Japanese fishing towns is no longer a quiet secret. The outcry has been growing against the hunt in Taiji, western Japan, since an award-winning American documentary The Cove this year showed dolphins being herded into an inlet and killed by fishermen with spears [AP]. Regardless, hunting season has begun anew, but in a small victory, representatives from the Save Japan Dolphins Coalition said they filmed Japanese fisherman releasing 70 bottlenose dolphins on Sunday.
The released dolphins were part of a catch that netted around 100 animals earlier in the month. The conservationists rejoiced over the release, but considering that the annual hunt in Taiji kills around 2,000, and up to 20,000 dolphins are killed across Japan each year, the group still has some persuading to do.
Dolphin hunting in Japan is a traditional business that many in Taiji rely on to make a living, but the gruesome nature of the killings has turned outsiders against the hunts. Scenes in The Cove graphically depict dolphins being trapped and killed with spears while the waters turn red with blood. This killing may be legal—dolphins and other small marine mammals are not protected by the ban on commercial whaling—but … the methods used are so nonchalantly brutal and gut-churningly primitive that Taiji officials are understandably publicity-shy [The New York Times]. The filmmakers were followed and harassed throughout their shooting, so they had to rely on more covert operations like deploying divers with underwater cameras, flying areal drones, and using thermal imaging and other spy gear to record the hunts.
The hunting season began on September 1, although most of the activity is kept hidden from public eyes. In a typical hunt the fishermen pursue pods of dolphins across open seas, banging metal poles together beneath the water to confuse their hypersensitive sonar. The exhausted animals are driven into a large cove sealed off by nets to stop them escaping and dragged backwards into secluded inlets the following morning to be butchered with knives and spears [The Guardian]. Meat from the slaughtered dolphins is then sold to markets. The best dolphins in the catch are kept alive and sold to dolphin parks, where a single dolphin can command up to $150,000.
Despite the recent release of 70 dolphins, and the pressure to cease the hunts altogether, many residents are unmoved and local officials are wishy-washy over whether they will release more dolphins. Officials here say dolphin hunts have long been a part of Taiji’s fishing culture. Although many have seen segments of The Cove on the Internet, most would not discuss the issue [Los Angeles Times]. Experts say that even if the town said they would release more of their catch, it will be almost impossible to monitor and verify.
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