Taiji Cove Japan

Taiji Cove Japan

Taiji is a small village in Japan, notorious for its annual Dolphin drive as featured in the 2010 academy award winning movie The Cove by Louie Psihoyos.  From the start of September until the end of February every year a large-scale hunt of dolphins takes place. During this period, fisherman, or more appropriately, dolphin hunters, utilise drive hunt techniques to herd large numbers of dolphins to shore, resulting in their capture or death. Save Me Trust works with the Dolphin Project, the only organisation to have been on the ground in Taiji since 2003.

Dolphin Drive Hunts 

The capture of dolphins in Taiji is carried out by 26 licensed fishermen. They have issued permits from the Japanese government to carry out Drive hunts to capture and kill a specified number of dolphins each year. Most of the people in the town of Taiji have nothing to do with these hunts. In fact, the Japanese people as a whole, are not aware of these hunts. 

 The fishermen of Taiji have become highly effective at locating, capturing and killing dolphins, sometimes as many as one hundred or more in a single day. 

 Just before sunrise, motor boats leave the harbour in search of wild dolphin pods, heading to deep water where the dolphins migrate. The Dolphins have been using these migratory paths for thousands, perhaps millions, of years, and the hunters know exactly where to find them. They fan out for many miles offshore, beyond the horizon.

 When a pod is located, the fishermen position their boats one behind the other, evenly spaced. They lower several stainless steel poles into the water, one on each side of each boat. The poles are flared out at the bottom much like a bell, which amplifies the sound produced as the hunters repeatedly hit the poles with hammers. The noise creates a wall of sound underwater, and the Dolphins find themselves trapped between this wall of sound and the shoreline. In an attempt to escape the sound, the dolphins swim in the opposite direction, toward the shore. 

 Now, in desperation and panic, the dolphins’ lose their sense of navigation, the fishermen drive them into a small cove near Taiji harbour. The whole process can take several hours, during which the dolphins grow ever-more exhausted. Nets are drawn across the mouth of the cove to close off any exit routes so the dolphins remain trapped. The Fishermen then force the dolphins into shallow water, close to the rocky beach. Here, they are inspected as part of captive selection or slaughtered.

 When the documentary “The Cove” was filmed, fishermen killed the dolphins with long, sharp spears. They stab the dolphins with sharp fishermen’s hooks and haul the still-living dolphins onto their boats. The dolphins thrashed about in their own blood, and their screams filled the air. The slaughter turned the waters of the cove - red with blood.

 Since “The Cove” came out, the fishermen have altered they're killing methods. They now pull the dolphins underneath an array of plastic tarpaulin’s (to prevent anyone filming the slaughter). There, the fishermen push a sharp metal spike into the dolphins’ necks just behind the blowholes, which is supposed to sever the spinal cord and produce an instant “humane” death. The fishermen then push dowel-like wooden corks into the wounds to prevent their blood from spilling into the cove. In reality, there is nothing humane about this. 

Officially, the main purpose of the dolphin hunt is to provide dolphin meat to the Japanese people – but only a small minority of people in Japan actually eat the meat. Dolphin meat is considered “trashy,” or ‘cheap’, unlike the much more expensive whale meat.

There is another essential and rather shocking aspect to the dolphin hunt: the fishermen have said that they not only hunt dolphins for their meat and for sale to the dolphinarium industry, but they hunt them “as a form of pest control.” From the fishermen’s perspective, the dolphins eat too much fish, and the fishermen are simply killing the competition. This is a cull - licensed by the Japanese government.

 Overfishing of the oceans is a tremendous problem on a global level, and the Japanese fishermen, supported by their government, are wrongly blaming the Dolphins for this depletion. The Japanese government is making the same false argument in front of the International Whaling Commission – that whales eat fish and therefore need to be controlled by killing.

This desire to keep the dolphin population down is a major reason why the Japanese government is keen to issue permits for the hunts. It is not really about providing meat for the Japanese people at all, and it is certainly not about maintaining what the fishermen repeatedly refer to as their “tradition” or “culture.” The first Taiji Dolphin hunt was in 1969! It is about eradicating as many dolphins as possible in order to make the oceans’ fish available only for human consumption.

There are several areas in Japan where local dolphin populations have declined or have become locally extinct with the full support of the Japanese government. The powerful Japan Fisheries Agency promotes the killing of dolphins and whales as part of Japan’s “food culture”, despite the fact that very few Japanese people now eat whale and dolphin meat anymore.

The Japan Fisheries Agency perceives its role as protecting the Japanese people from the consequences of overfishing worldwide – they believe, if environmentalists shut down whaling and dolphin hunts, that other Japanese fishing methods and species might be attacked. The whaling staff of the Japan Fisheries Agency have an additional (and very personal) incentive to maintain the hunts: the sale of whale meat and government subsidies provided to protect whaling pays their salaries. This is a political battle.

The Japanese Fisheries Agency authorise fishermen to kill or capture almost 16,000 cetaceans annually. Almost 2,000 of these may be killed in Taiji alone.

In 2016, quotas were set for seven species of dolphins. Other species are killed with hand-held harpoons from small boats at sea and not driven to the cove.

The targeted dolphin species include:

Pacific Bottlenose dolphins, Risso’s dolphins, False killer whales, Pacific white-sided dolphins, Short-finned pilot whales, Pantropical spotted dolphins and Striped dolphins