Each year from September to May more than 20,000 dolphins are slaughtered in Japan. Fishermen round them up by the hundreds using sound barriers to disorient and drive the frantic pods into hidden lagoons like the one featured in The Cove.
Bottlenose dolphins, especially ones that look like Flipper, are pre-selected by trainers and sold off for upwards of $200,000 to marine mammal parks around the world, where they will remain in captivity performing as circus acts. After the trainers and spectators have left, the rest of the dolphins are inhumanely killed in what can only be described as a massacre.
Starting on September 1st and usually continuing through March of the next year, fishermen herd whole families of small cetaceans into a shallow bays and mercilessly stab and drown them to death.
This annual slaughter of dolphins was virtually unknown until 2003 when Sea Shepherd globally released covertly-obtained film and photographs of the now infamous bloody “Cove” in a village called Taiji. Starting in 2010 and continuing to this day, Sea Shepherd has a ongoing presence of volunteers standing watch on site at the Cove. They are The Cove Guardians.
The butchered dolphins are later used for food, but the Japanese government has hides the dangers of eating them. Consumers of dolphin meat run the risk of mercury poisoning due to high levels of the toxin within the animals. Adding to the danger, much of the pricier whale meat they purchase is actually mislabeled toxic dolphin meat. While the Japanese government defends dolphin hunting as part of their cultural heritage, this tradition has serious health effects on its own people.
The more lucrative captive dolphin industry is the driving economic force behind the dolphin slaughter in Taiji. In the U.S. alone, dolphinariums represent an $8.4 billion industry, while a dead dolphin fetches a mere $600. International law provides no protections against the killing of dolphins, and other slaughters occur in places outside of Japan. The International Whaling Commission (IWC) affords no protections for 71 (out of 80, known) cetacean species, including all dolphins and porpoises, which is why Japan and other countries can legally kill them by the tens of thousands.
Taiji has been primarily known as a whaling town. Japanese traditional whaling techniques were developed here in the 17th century, and the commercial hunting and catching of dolphins remains a major source of income for its residents to this day. Wada Chūbei organized the group hunting system (刺手組) and introduced a new handheld harpoon in 1606. Wada Kakuemon, later known as Taiji Kakuemon, invented the whaling net technique called Amitori hō (網取法) to increase the safety and efficiency of whaling. This method was applied for more than 200 years.
Small cetaceans, namely dolphins are not protected by the International Whaling Commission (IWC). In fact, the IWC affords no protections for 71 (out of 80, known) cetacean species, including all dolphins and porpoises, which is why Japan can legally kill them by the tens of thousands.
The Japanese people have been intentionally sheltered from the slaughter, and the large majority are still unaware that much of the meat they purchase is actually mislabeled dolphin meat. It’s high in mercury and other toxins. It potentially carries prion disease–the ocean equivalent of mad cow disease. It’s deadly. It’s transmissible. It’s unstoppable.
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