FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Japan’s Bloody Dolphin Hunt: Where Aquariums Shop

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.

November 14, 2018
Charles Pierson
Unstoppable: The Keystone XL Oil Pipeline and NAFTA
Sam Bahour
Israel’s Mockery of Security: 101 Actions Israel Could Take
Cesar Chelala
How a Bad Environment Impacts Children’s Health
George Ochenski
What Tester’s Win Means
Louisa Willcox
Saving Romania’s Brown Bears, Sharing Lessons About Coxistence, Conservation
George Wuerthner
Alternatives to Wilderness?
Robert Fisk
Izzeldin Abuelaish’s Three Daughters were Killed in Gaza, But He Still Clings to Hope for the Middle East
Dennis Morgan
For What?
Dana E. Abizaid
The Government is Our Teacher
Bill Martin
The Trump Experiment: Liberals and Leftists Unhinged and Around the Bend
Rivera Sun
After the Vote: An Essay of the Man from the North
Jamie McConnell
Allowing Asbestos to Continue Killing
Thomas Knapp
Talkin’ Jim Acosta Hard Pass Blues: Is White House Press Access a Constitutional Right?
Bill Glahn
Snow Day
November 13, 2018
Patrick Cockburn
The Midterm Results are Challenging Racism in America in Unexpected Ways
Victor Grossman
Germany on a Political Seesaw
Cillian Doyle
Fictitious Assets, Hidden Losses and the Collapse of MDM Bank
Lauren Smith
Amnesia and Impunity Reign: Wall Street Celebrates Halliburton’s 100th Anniversary
Joe Emersberger
Moreno’s Neoliberal Restoration Proceeds in Ecuador
Carol Dansereau
Climate and the Infernal Blue Wave: Straight Talk About Saving Humanity
Dave Lindorff
Hey Right Wingers! Signatures Change over Time
Dan Corjescu
Poetry and Barbarism: Adorno’s Challenge
Patrick Bond
Mining Conflicts Multiply, as Critics of ‘Extractivism’ Gather in Johannesburg
Ed Meek
The Kavanaugh Hearings: Text and Subtext
Binoy Kampmark
Concepts of Nonsense: Australian Soft Power
November 12, 2018
Kerron Ó Luain
Poppy Fascism and the English Education System
Conn Hallinan
Nuclear Treaties: Unwrapping Armageddon
Robert Hunziker
Tropical Trump Declares War on Amazonia
John W. Whitehead
Badge of Shame: the Government’s War on Military Veterans
Will Griffin
Military “Service” Serves the Ruling Class
John Eskow
Harold Pinter’s America: Hard Truths and Easy Targets
Rob Okun
Activists Looking Beyond Midterm Elections
Binoy Kampmark
Mid-Term Divisions: The Trump Take
Dean Baker
Short-Term Health Insurance Plans Destroy Insurance Pools
George Wuerthner
Saving the Buffalohorn/Porcupine: the Lamar Valley of the Gallatin Range
Patrick Howlett-Martin
A Note on the Paris Peace Forum
Joseph G. Ramsey
Does America Have a “Gun Problem”…Or a White Supremacy Capitalist Empire Problem?
Weekend Edition
November 09, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Louis Proyect
Why Democrats Are So Okay With Losing
Andrew Levine
What Now?
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Chuck and Nancy’s House of Cards
Brian Cloughley
The Malevolent Hypocrisy of Selective Sanctions
Marc Levy
Welcome, Class of ‘70
David Archuleta Jr.
Facebook Allows Governments to Decide What to Censor
Evaggelos Vallianatos
The Zika Scare: a Political and Commercial Maneuver of the Chemical Poisons Industry
Nick Pemberton
When It Comes To Stone Throwing, Democrats Live In A Glass House
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail