September 1 marks ‘Dolphins Day’ in Taiji, Japan
By Brittney MacDonald, Senior Columnist
When you hear the phrase “Dolphins Day,” it evokes the childish joy of parades and fun associated with the beloved animal; but for conservationists around the world, Dolphin Day on September 1 is dreaded because it marks the beginning of the Taiji dolphin drive, a seven-month long hunt that takes place from September to April.
Thousands of dolphins and porpoises are herded from their migratory patterns by fisherman into a secluded cove in Taiji, Japan. The most attractive of the cetaceans are singled out by trainers from around the world to be part of aquariums, other sea-life exhibitions, and breeding programs. The rest, however, are slaughtered for their meat or driven back out to sea.
The hunt has been criticized because of the number of dolphins and porpoises slaughtered, as well as the methods with which they are killed. After the dolphin family groups, known as pods, have been herded into the cove, they are fenced in with nets, and killed within hearing distance of the rest of the pod, who then become distressed by not only the sounds of the restrained animals, but by the smell of blood in the water.
The accounts of the slaughter bear a remarkable similarity to the controversial Whistler cull of 100 sled dogs by Robert Fawcett in 2010 following the Olympic Games. The incident garnered media attention when Fawcett was brought up on accusations of cruelty for killing the dogs and for causing undue trauma and stress to the remaining animals.
The actual method of slaughter used on the dolphins is supposed to consist of a humane method called pithing, in which a metal rod is driven into the head to destroy the brain—quickly killing the mammal. The majority of the killings are done improperly, however, as the metal rods are only inserted into the spinal cords, leaving the dolphins to struggle for life for up to 30 minutes.
Last year, worldwide attention was brought to the hunt when CNN and other news sources tracked the capture of Angel, a rare albino dolphin calf. Angel now lives in captivity in the Taiji Whale Museum. The museum is being sued by environmental activist groups and Ric O’Barry, former trainer for the 1960’s television show Flipper, for the museum’s rule that no environmental activists or dolphin experts will be allowed admittance to see Angel to determine her welfare.
O’Barry is best known in recent years for his activism in opposing the Taiji dolphin drive. He was featured in the Oscar-winning 2009 documentary The Cove, a film that follows a group of activists as they attempt to expose the brutality of the hunt, and the health concerns surrounding the consumption of dolphin meat.
Live coverage of the hunt can be found on SeaShepard.org