FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Japan’s Bloody Dolphin Hunt: Where Aquariums Shop

by

The notorious annual dolphin hunt got underway last week in the small Japanese town of Taiji. During the six-month hunting season, terrified dolphins are violently herded into a narrow cove. Most are slaughtered — but scores of “good-looking” ones are captured and shipped off to aquariums.

The Taiji hunts always receive a barrage of condemnation, and especially so since the release of the Oscar-nominated documentary “The Cove” in 2009. While the hunters maintain they are culling dolphin “pests” who eat too many fish, the primary economic incentive for the Taiji drive hunts is the aquarium industry. Live dolphins sell for around $50,000, and this is what keeps the hunters in business.

If there were no demand for live dolphins from Taiji, it is highly likely this annual slaughter of hundreds of dolphins would cease.

After legal action last year from the advocacy group Australia for Dolphins and significant public pressure, the World Assn. of Zoos and Aquariums changed its policy and began to oppose the capture of cetaceans. To maintain membership in WAZA, all member aquariums had to agree not to buy dolphins from Taiji or any other drive hunt.

Strangely, the professional association that represents dolphin trainers hasn’t taken the same step. The International Marine Animal Trainers’ Assn. strongly opposes the dolphin slaughter that occurs in Taiji, but it accepts the capture of dolphins that happens during the same hunts. IMATA has a policy that ethicsrealworldexpressly allows its members to participate in the brutal collection process in Taiji, during which dolphins are dragged through the water by their tail flukes and violently torn from their families. According to the organization’s statement, a trainer is welcome in IMATA “even if s/he participates in the selection and collection of live animals on the premise that those animals will benefit as s/he is exposed to the most current best practices in animal care and training.”

To those who have been to Taiji and witnessed a drive hunt, it is obvious that the killing and capture of dolphins are inextricably linked. Because the capture fuels the slaughter, IMATA cannot rationally condemn one while accepting the other. Dolphin trainers in wetsuits and hats brandishing the IMATA logo stand side by side with the Japanese hunters, choosing which dolphins will live in their aquariums and which will die.

Dolphins weigh up to 1,100 pounds, so it is not a gentle process to haul them into a boat. They struggle, often injuring themselves. Some even purposely beach themselves on rocks in an attempt to save themselves. The initial herding process, where dolphins are chased by speedboats and driven to the point of exhaustion, is also incredibly cruel, leading many dolphins to drown or die from cardiac arrest. From an animal welfare perspective, these hunts are truly shocking. From a conservation angle, the hunts are devastating for local dolphin populations, which are at risk of extinction. Last year, more than 650 cetaceans were killed, and 117 captured.

If IMATA were to change its policy, marine facilities around the world would find it difficult to source wild dolphins. It would give trainers, too, second thoughts about participating in a process that is condemned by the entire zoo and aquarium community, facilities and training associations alike.

SeaWorld could also lead the way. The theme park chain has been bending over backward to improve its image since the release of the 2013 documentary “Blackfish.” Still, many SeaWorld trainers are IMATA members, including the organization’s first vice president, and the company is also hosting IMATA’s annual conference in November in San Diego.

Last year, the company committed to never buy cetaceans taken from the wild again. To make that commitment stick, it should cut all ties to the Taiji hunts — including to organizations  such as IMATA that allow members to be directly involved in the dolphin hunts.

If the history of the animal rights movement has taught us anything, it is that big wins for animals do not come about as quickly as we might hope. Still, important progress has been made in many areas of animal welfare, including within the entertainment industry. It once seemed radical to oppose many animal abuses — for example, keeping laying hens in battery cages. Now the idea is so mainstream that even McDonald’s and Walmart have agreed to phase out the use of eggs from caged hens.

Rightly or wrongly, most Americans care more about dolphins than hens. Hopefully, IMATA and SeaWorld will soon realize that their publicly stated concern for dolphins’ welfare must extend beyond their pools and tanks to include the wild, free-living dolphins off the coast of Japan.

Peter Singer is professor of bioethics at Princeton University, and laureate professor at the University of Melbourne in Australia. He is the author of “Animal Liberation” and, most recently, “Ethics in the Real World.”

Jordan Sosnowski is a lawyer and the advocacy director at Australia for Dolphins and an associate fellow at the Oxford Centre for Animal Ethics.

This column originally appeared in the Los Angeles Times.

February 21, 2018
Cecil Bothwell
Billy Graham and the Gospel of Fear
Ajamu Baraka
Venezuela: Revenge of the Mad-Dog Empire
Edward Hunt
Treating North Korea Rough
Binoy Kampmark
Meddling for Empire: the CIA Comes Clean
Ron Jacobs
Stamping Out Hunger
Ammar Kourany – Martha Myers
So, You Think You Are My Partner? International NGOs and National NGOs, Costs of Asymmetrical Relationships
Michael Welton
1980s: From Star Wars to the End of the Cold War
Judith Deutsch
Finkelstein on Gaza: Who or What Has a Right to Exist? 
Kevin Zeese - Margaret Flowers
War Preparations on Venezuela as Election Nears
Wilfred Burchett
Vietnam Will Win: Military Realities
Steve Early
Refinery Safety Campaign Frays Blue-Green Alliance
Ali Mohsin
Muslims Face Increasing Discrimination, State Surveillance Under Trump
Julian Vigo
UK Mass Digital Surveillance Regime Ruled Illegal
Peter Crowley
Revisiting ‘Make America Great Again’
Andrew Stewart
Black Panther: Afrofuturism Gets a Superb Film, Marvel Grows Up and I Don’t Know How to Review It
CounterPunch News Service
A Call to Celebrate 2018 as the Year of William Edward Burghardt Du Bois by the Saturday Free School
February 20, 2018
Nick Pemberton
The Gun Violence the Media Shows Us and the State Violence They Don’t
John Eskow
Sympathy for the Drivel: On the Vocabulary of President Nitwit
John Steppling
Trump, Putin, and Nikolas Cruz Walk Into a Bar…
John W. Whitehead
America’s Cult of Violence Turns Deadly
Ishmael Reed
Charles F. Harris: He Popularized Black History
Will Podmore
Paying the Price: the TUC and Brexit
George Burchett
Plumpes Denken: Crude thinking
Binoy Kampmark
The Caring Profession: Peacekeeping, Blue Helmets and Sexual Abuse
Lawrence Wittner
The Trump Administration’s War on Workers
David Swanson
The Question of Sanctions: South Africa and Palestine
Walter Clemens
Murderers in High Places
Dean Baker
How Does the Washington Post Know that Trump’s Plan Really “Aims” to Pump $1.5 Trillion Into Infrastructure Projects?
February 19, 2018
Rob Urie
Mueller, Russia and Oil Politics
Richard Moser
Mueller the Politician
Robert Hunziker
There Is No Time Left
Nino Pagliccia
Venezuela Decides to Hold Presidential Elections, the Opposition Chooses to Boycott Democracy
Daniel Warner
Parkland Florida: Revisiting Michael Fields
Sheldon Richman
‘Peace Through Strength’ is a Racket
Wilfred Burchett
Vietnam Will Win: Taking on the Pentagon
Patrick Cockburn
People Care More About the OXFAM Scandal Than the Cholera Epidemic
Ted Rall
On Gun Violence and Control, a Political Gordian Knot
Binoy Kampmark
Making Mugs of Voters: Mueller’s Russia Indictments
Dave Lindorff
Mass Killers Abetted by Nutjobs
Myles Hoenig
A Response to David Axelrod
Colin Todhunter
The Royal Society and the GMO-Agrochemical Sector
Cesar Chelala
A Student’s Message to Politicians about the Florida Massacre
Weekend Edition
February 16, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Jeffrey St. Clair
American Carnage
Paul Street
Michael Wolff, Class Rule, and the Madness of King Don
Andrew Levine
Had Hillary Won: What Now?
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail