Every year between September and April, the blue water in many Japanese bays is turned crimson by the blood of thousands of dolphins. Driven by sounds made by fishermen who beat on specially designed metal poles, the dolphins are forced into shallow waters where some are captured alive to be sold to aquariums around the world for around $20,000–to 100,000 a piece. Most of the remaining dolphins are brutally stabbed and speared and allowed to bleed to death. Others die from becoming entangled in the nets that are placed around the slaughter pens to seal off routes of escape. The meat of the slaughtered dolphins is then sold in Japanese markets. The demand by Aquariums for dolphins, and the high price “suitable specimens” fetch assures the continuation of the inhumane hunt unless more people are made aware of the hunt and more people protest the killing.
Video footage of the slaughters reveal the horrible cruelty involved. The images of the bloodied water, the struggling dolphins, and the sound of their anguished cries, are images and sounds one never forgets.
Embarrassed by activists’ footage, Japanese officials now prohibit any photos or video of the slaughter and attempt to seal off the areas with signs warning of fake dangers, and use canvas walls and blue tarps to prohibit viewing of the areas. Animal activist groups are banned from the areas and the surrounding towns and at least two have been jailed for saving dolphins (Allison Lance Watson and Alex Cornelissen, members of Sea Shepherd, were jailed in 2003 for freeing dolphins from nets in Taiji). Activists still arrive each year, and will continue to document these annual hunts as long as they continue.
Among those who have raised the ire of the dolphin hunters is environmentalist Ric O’Barry. In the 1960’s, O’Barry trained the dolphins used in the television show, “Flipper,” but he later turned against the practice of capturing dolphins and keeping them in captivity. He became a very busy animal rights activist–he started the Dolphin Project in 1970 which is a program dedicated to stopping the capture and trafficking of dolphins, and he now makes several journeys a year to Taiji to capture footage of the terrible slaughter there.
In a 2006 interview O’Barry stated why he is despised by the hunters in Taiji:
“I’m the biggest thorn in their side. I bring and encourage journalists to go there and report it, including the BBC. 300 million people saw a recent BBC documentary on Taiji. And that’s why the dolphin hunters hate me because they told me. ‘If the world finds out about this we’ll have to stop.’ This kind of evil only thrives in the dark.”
May more light be cast upon this horrible practice in Japan.