Six Years Later: Did 'The Cove' Impact Dolphin Hunting in Japan? Melissa Cronin

This article talks about the Dolphin slaughter/hunting that happens in Japan every year in Taiji. This subject is very controversial and a lot of organizations are trying to make this hunt stop. It also shows the impact that "The Cove" had on this hunting.

What is "The Cove" ?

A poster for the documentary

The Cove is a 2009 documentary film directed by Louie Psihoyos which analyzes and questions dolphin hunting practices in Japan. It was awarded the Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature in 2010. The film is a call to action to halt mass dolphin kills, change Japanese fishing practices, and to inform and educate the public about the risks, and increasing hazard, of mercury poisoning from dolphin meat. The film is told from an ocean conservationist's point of view. The film highlights the fact that the number of dolphins killed in the Taiji dolphin drive hunting is several times greater than the number of whales killed in the Antarctic, and asserts that 23,000 dolphins and porpoises are killed in Japan every year by the country's whaling industry. The migrating dolphins are herded into a cove where they are netted and killed by means of spears and knives over the side of small fishing boats. The film argues that dolphin hunting as practiced in Japan is unnecessary and cruel.

Since the film's release, The Cove has drawn controversy over neutrality, secret filming, and its portrayal of the Japanese people.

The Taiji Cove

This is where it all happens. Hundreds of dolphins are herded into shore every year, to be slaughtered for meat or to be captured and sent to sea pens to be trained for a lifetime in captivity. The season for the dolphin hunts lasts six months, from Sept. 1st through the end of February. In Japan, the hunting is done by a select group of fishermen. When a pod of dolphins has been spotted, fishing boats move into position. One end of a steel pipe is lowered into the water, and the fisherman aboard the boats strike the pipe with mallets.

This is done at strategic points around the pod, in an effort to herd them toward land. The clamor disrupts the dolphins' sonar throwing off their navigation and herds them towards the bay which leads to a sheltered cove. There, the fishermen quickly close off the area with nets to prevent the dolphins' escape. As the dolphins are initially quite agitated, they are left to calm down over night. The following day, fishermen enter the bay in small boats, and the dolphins are caught one at a time and killed. The primary method of dispatch was for a long time to cut the dolphin's throat, severing blood vessels, and death was due to exsanguination.

The government banned this method and now the officially sanctioned method requires that a metal pin be driven into the cervical region ("neck") of the dolphin, severing its brainstem, which causes it to die within seconds, according to a memo from Senzo Uchida, the executive secretary of the Japan Cetacean Conference on Zoological Gardens and Aquariums.

According to an academic paper published in 2013 in the Journal of Applied Animal Welfare Science titled A Veterinary and Behavioral Analysis of Dolphin Killing Methods Currently Used in the 'Drive Hunt' in Taiji, Japan, those killing methods involving driving a rod into the spine and using a pin to stop bleeding that is used by the Japanese in Taiji creates such terror and pain that it would be illegal to kill cows in Japan in this manner. Several veterinarians and behavioral scientists evaluated the current Taiji Japanese killing method and concluded that "This killing method….would not be tolerated or permitted in any regulated slaughterhouse process in the developed world.

The answer to the headline of the article

While the movie brought a lot of awareness on the situation, the hunting still goes on. Japanese people don’t even know about the slaughtering. Nonetheless, every year the numbers of dolphin killed or captured is less important.

The government claims the kills are part of Japan’s traditional culture when, in fact, they only started in 1969. Many Japanese who oppose the hunts are afraid to speak out publicly because of threats from the government and the extremist anti-foreigners groups.

Here are the reports for the last hunting season. When Earth Island began the Save Japan Dolphins Campaign in 2004, about 1,600 dolphins were killed in Taiji. Last season, only 751 were reported killed and slaughtered for meat. Their educational work in Japan that dolphin meat is contaminated by mercury, combined with the work of other organizations, is the main reason fewer dolphins are being killed for meat - there is not enough people buying dolphin meat as in the past, due to mercury poisoning concerns.

Although it my seem good that some are released, it is highly unlikely that the released dolphins fare well in the ocean. They have been chased and kept in captivity for hours (if not days), they may have suffered injuries in the process and certainly went without any food, and they lost their pod mates to the slaughter or the captive trade. A pod is not just a random collection of dolphins, but is largely built on dolphin families with very close relations. We know that dolphins exhibit signs of grieving for sick or dead animals in the pod. What must it be like for these traumatized animals to suddenly be released and herded back into the ocean? Sea Shepherd has reported several times seeing stranded dolphins along the shoreline that likely died after they were released by the Taiji hunters. Many more likely perish at sea. These dead dolphins, needless to say, are never counted against the hunter’s annual quota set by the Japan Fisheries Agency.

Many aquariums in Japan buy Taiji dolphins, but this season is the first where the Japan Association of Zoos and Aquariums (JAZA) has told their member organizations not to purchase any dolphins from the Taiji drive hunts, due to a successful campaign by Earth Island’s Save Japan Dolphins Campaign and other environmental groups to pressure the World Association of Zoos and Aquariums to crack down on JAZA. However, there are many swim-with-dolphins programs and small aquariums in Japan that are not members of JAZA, and Taiji also exports dolphins to aquariums in China, Russia and the Middle East. The Taiji hunters continue to capture large numbers of wild dolphins this season for a life of captivity, despite the JAZA member aquariums’ withdrawal from the live dolphin market.

Even though killing less doesn’t mean it’s acceptable now, it’s still better than at the beginning. Let’s hope it continues this way, and stops once and for all very soon.

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