Taiji - Japan's dolphin slaughter continues

| 30th January 2014
Selecting dolphins for capture at the 'drive hunt' at Taiji. Photo: Sea Shepherd.
Selecting dolphins for capture at the 'drive hunt' at Taiji. Photo: Sea Shepherd.
The Japanese dolphin slaughter at Taiji is an exercise in wilful sadism, writes Joshua Frank. But responsibility for the killing spreads much wider than Japan, with captive cetaceans from Taiji reaching aquaria around the globe - including SeaWorld.
Perhaps dolphins symbolize real freedom - freedom from our petty needs and material excesses.

The shores and ocean waters were stained a blood red as the annual dolphin slaughter in Taiji, Japan commenced last September - and the blood has continued to run ever since.

On 17th January an entire pod of 250 Bottlenose dolphins were netted, including a very rare albino calf selected for captivity, one of 52. Forty were slaughtered and one more died in the process.

The following day, three of the 52 captives were found floating dead in their harbor pens, having succumbed from stress or injury.

And the latest reports from Sea Shepherd tell of a pod of 60-65 striped dolphins - mothers, juveniles, babies and all - entirely wiped out. Of a pod of Risso's dolphins just captured, nine were butchered for human consumption while two were taken captive.

And the killing continues, indeed it is expected to carry on through the entire month of February.

30 minutes of agony, then death

The Taiji dolphins suffer an unspeakably savage death. In shallow waters fishermen stab the dolphins with metal spikes through their spinal cords.

It usually takes  several strikes to sever the dolphin's spine. It's a slow, painful and soul-wrenching death. It often takes as long as 30 minutes before the dying dolphin inhales its final breath.

The helpless animals are driven to the killing cove by boat, made infamous by the Academy Award-winning documentary The Cove, in a barbaric ritual that is void of even the slightest ounce of compassion.

This year, after five horrific days in captivity, families of bottlenose dolphins were ripped apart, mothers screaming in agony as their babies were stolen away. Others fought to get free, only to be corralled back into the cove.

Killing with impunity

Currently the International Whaling Commission (IWC), the toothless non-governmental body that oversees whaling activities, does not protect dolphins and porpoises, which is why Japan can kill dolphins by the thousands with impunity.

In fact, the IWC affords no protection for nearly 90% of all cetacean species. While Taiji may be the most notorious of the hunts that takes place in Japan, many other killing operations are equally cruel.

These ruthless Japanese 'drive hunts' murder nearly 20,000 dolphins, porpoises and small whales every year.

Watch the money

Activists noted that this winter's Taiji slaughter was one of the largest in years. In all they reported at least 50 'show-quality' specimens would be shipped off to aquariums around the world from China, the Middle East to inland Mexico and beyond.

Perhaps dolphins symbolize real freedom - freedom from our petty needs and material excesses.

The animals fortunate enough to avoid being killed for their prized meat were released back to sea, where they will spend the rest of their emotionally traumatized lives.

"Many of these will not survive the physical and emotional trauma of the experience", according to Sea Shepherd." Our Cove Guardians find many babies and juveniles washed up on the shoreline after these now-disrupted pods have been driven back out to sea."

The albino dolphin, named 'Angel' by long-time activists Ric O'Barry and Karla Sanjur, was first spotted as she swam nervously alongside her mother into the cove.

Soon after the first sightings of the pale white Angel, she was netted by Japanese fisherman, taken from her pod, and, as of this writing, remains locked inside the dreary Taiji Whale Museum.

And there she waits to be sold to an aquarium that will put her up on display, no doubt marketing her unique skin tone.

International pressure is growing

International pressure is mounting in hopes of putting a halt to the murders and kidnappings of Taiji. US Ambassador to Japan Caroline Kennedy, daughter of JFK, expressed her dismay on Twitter.

"Deeply concerned by inhumaneness of drive hunt dolphin killing. USG [US government] opposes drive hunt fisheries", tweeted Kennedy, who was nominated to her post last November.

It was a first for a US government official to criticize the hunt.

Cultural Imperialism?

Some have denounced Kennedy and others that oppose the mass killing as cultural imperialists, even though the practice has only been going on in Taiji since 1969. Why is that?

It's true that marine parks in the US are guilty of exploiting marine life, as well documented in the 2013 film Blackfish (snubbed by the Academy), which exposes the dark reality of SeaWorld, where cruel entertainment is passed off as conservation.

Even so, this reality doesn't diminish criticism of the dolphin killings in Taiji or the fact that the dolphins are fighting for their lives as they are chased to their deaths by eager fisherman.

A primal connection

We empathize with the dolphin's pain as biological similarities abound. Like humans, dolphins are social creatures. They give birth, they breathe air and warm blood flows through their veins.

Someone more spiritual than myself may say there is a primal connection between dolphins and humans that evokes something sacred in us. But while I wish the heartless killings of dolphins would end, the cynic in me can't help but wonder how that will ever happen.

One would think it is much easier to convince humans that killing other humans is ethically and morally bankrupt. But we live in an amoral and compassionless society, where our liberal president deploys drones, bombs weddings and kills scores of innocent children with scant public opposition.

If we can't put an end to these killings, how will we ever save the dolphins from those damn lethal pikes of Taiji?

Re-learning our own humanity - from the dolphins

Nonetheless, perhaps dolphins can teach us more about humanity than we can teach ourselves. Perhaps dolphins can show us the true innocence of life and re-connect us to the natural world, in its wild state. Perhaps dolphins symbolize real freedom - freedom from our petty needs and material excesses.

Ordinary people everywhere, including many Japanese, have voiced their outrage over the slaughter in Taiji. The conservation group Sea Shepherd and others continue to protest the killings and vow to one-day end the hunt.

Their success hinges on whether or not tough international pressure can be waged, which in the end funds programs to transition these Japanese fisherman into new lines of work. Let's join them.

Until this happens, the dark red blood of innocent dolphins will continue to stain our souls and the sands of Taiji.



Joshue Frank is managing editor of CounterPunch, where this article was originally published.

He is author of Left Out! How Liberals Helped Reelect George W. Bush (Common Courage Press, 2005), and along with Jeffrey St. Clair, the editor of Red State Rebels: Tales of Grassroots Resistance in the Heartland and Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion, both published by AK Press.

He can be reached at brickburner@gmail.com.


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