As the opening season for the notorious dolphin-drive hunts approach, local tourist operations in Taiji, Japan are finding additional ways to exploit the innocent creatures. A recently recorded video captures tourists laughing and playing with dolphins in the infamous killing cove. The whole thing is just plain wrong.
The Taiji dolphin drive hunts came into the public spotlight in 2009 through the Oscar-winning documentary, “The Cove.” Every year between the months of September and March, local fisherman in Taiji herd pods of dolphins into what is known as the “killing cove,” where hundreds of dolphins are brutally beaten and slaughtered for their meat. Some of the dolphins that are deemed “prettier than others” are captured and sold into the marine captivity industry for public entertainment. The documentary film covertly captured these brutal acts.
Video footage depicting a rather different scenario has now emerged from “killing cove.” In this video, tourists playfully swim alongside dolphins in a netted area in the cove just weeks before the deadly hunt is set to begin in September. Young children laugh and bob in floatation toys in the water as the dolphins swim beside them. The sun is shining, and no one seems to have a care in the world.
According to the Dolphin Project, the dolphins featured in the video were likely captured in last year’s hunt and have been held captive to be trained to interact with guests. The nearby Taiji Whale Museum, which purchases many of its show dolphins from the drive hunts, relocates their live dolphin show to the outdoor cove during the warm summer months.
The tourists in the video are seemingly oblivious to the reality that in just a few weeks the waters will run red with blood from hundreds of slaughtered dolphins. Ric O’Barry, former dolphin trainer and founder of the Dolphin Project who is prominently featured in “The Cove” documentary, stated that the Japanese public would be greatly upset if they knew what went on in those waters.
“The Taiji Whale Museum is right next door to the the cove,” O’Barry commented. “So people think that the cove is an extension of the museum. They have no idea what goes on. They’d never step foot in that bloody water if they did.”
Local fisherman claim that the mass killings are crucial to sustaining the local economy in Taiji. The Japanese government also supports the drive hunts, claiming that they are an integral part of traditional Japanese culture. And by “traditional” they mean a loosely rooted and recent practice that began merely a few decades ago.
The real motivation here is greed.
A decade ago the number of dolphins killed each season was around 1,600, sold for meat and entertainment. Thanks to recent activism and public demand for the cessation of hunts, the number of dolphins killed each year has significantly decreased. The market for dolphin meat consumption has also diminished due to concerns over mercury content. Ceta-Base, a non-profit organization estimates that 652 dolphins were killed during last year’s season.
In order for these brutal practices to come to an ultimate end, the public must continue to put pressure on the fisherman in Taiji and the Japanese government. Ric O’Barry and his team are heading back to Taiji this hunting season in order to more thoroughly document and expose the slaughter. You can also donate to the Dolphin Project or the International Marine Mammal Project’s Save Japan Dolphins campaign to help the cause.