“According to The History of Taiji, edited and published by Taiji town in 1979, the first recorded dolphin drive was in 1933, with subsequent hunts occurring in 1936 and 1944. It was not until 1969 that dolphin drives have been conducted on a large scale,” Sakae Hemmi of the Elsa Nature Conservancy of Japan wrote.
Despite this, Japanese fishermen and their government justify dolphin drive hunts by saying they are a centuries-old cultural tradition. During these “hunts,” dolphins are rounded up and driven into the cove, where they are surrounded by nets and trapped. The way the dolphins are slaughtered has been noted for its brutality.
“A metal rod was stabbed into their spinal cord, where they were left to bleed out, suffocate and die. After a traumatic four days held captive in the killing cove, they experienced violent captive selection, being separated from their family, and then eventually were killed today,” Sea Shepherd Conservation Society activist Melissa Sehgal told Reuters.
“The hunting of whales and dolphins has been carried out since long ago and is performed on scientific grounds,” Kazutaka Sangen, the mayor of Taiji, told reporters. He did not explain how slaughtering thousands of dolphins over a period of decades contributes to science.
In reality, these killings have much more to do with money than “cultural tradition” or “scientific grounds.” According to the UK’s Independent, dolphin meat can sell for anywhere from $9.00 to $17.00 per pound (around 6-10 British pounds sterling). And National Geographic reports live Taiji dolphins being sold abroad for as much as $150,000 each, and the price range paid by Japan’s many aquariums is closer to between $40,000 and $80,000.
The annual hunt has been a source of controversy and criticism against Japan, especially since the release of the 2009 documentary The Cove, which thrust the event into the world’s spotlight. Dolphins are extremely intelligent creatures, and in 2013 the government of India recognized their status as “non-human persons” who “should have their own specific rights.”