Taiji dolphin drive hunt

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The fishing village of Taiji.

The Taiji dolphin drive hunt is a dolphin drive hunt that takes place in Taiji, Wakayama in Japan every year from September to March. According to the Japanese Fisheries Research Agency, 1,623 dolphins were caught in Wakayama Prefecture in 2007 for human consumption or resale to dolphinariums, and most of these were caught at Taiji.[1]

The annual dolphin hunt provides income for local residents, and has received international criticism for both the cruelty of the dolphin killing and the high mercury levels of the dolphin meat.[2]


Residents of Taiji have been refining whaling techniques and have had significant whaling operations since the early 17th century,[3] and became known as a center for whaling in 1675.[4] Hunting dolphins for commercial purposes in Taiji continues. In 2008, 1,484 dolphins and whales were caught, while fisherman planned to catch around 2,400 in 2009.[5] Some of the dolphins are sold to aquatic parks, instead of slaughtered, and Ted Hammond is one of the main brokers for Taiji.[6]


Fishermen kill dolphin pods using spikes which sever the spinal cord, Taiji, Japan.

In Japan, the hunting is done by a select group of fishermen.[7] 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.[8]

This is done at strategic points around the pod, in an effort to herd them toward land. The clamor disrupts the dolphin's 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 dolphin's escape.[9]

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.[10]

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.[11]

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 Taiji Japanese 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."[12]

Health risks[edit]

Since 2000, researchers such as Tetsuya Endo, a professor at the Health Sciences University of Hokkaido, have found high concentrations of mercury in the whale and dolphin meat sold around Japan. In their studies, Taiji residents who eat dolphin meat had high level of mercury in their hair.[13] The Japanese Ministry of Health issued warnings on the consumption of some species of fish, whale, and dolphin since 2003. It recommended that children and pregnant women avoid eating them on a regular basis.[14]

In June 2008, AERA, a Japanese weekly journal, reported that the whale and dolphin meat sold in Taiji contained 160 times higher level of mercury and hairs of eight men and women had 40 times higher, based on a research conducted by the National Institute for Minamata Disease (NIMD). The NIMD published the full data of the research online a few days later. It has pointed out that the amount of methyl-mercury, which causes neurological damage, was not exceedingly high, and the mercury in hair showed rapid decrease since tests carried out by other institutions a few months ago to the same people. The NIMD agreed to help monitor the health of Taiji residents.[15]

In the summer and winter of 2009, hair samples from 1,137 Taiji residents were tested for mercury by the National Institute for Minimata Disease (NIMD). None of the Taiji residents, however, displayed any symptoms of mercury poisoning, according to the Institute.[16][17] Despite the claim made by Boyd Harnell, the special correspondent to the Japan Times, that the mortality rate for Taiji and nearby Koazagawa, where dolphin meat is also consumed, is "over 50% higher than the rate for similarly-sized villages throughout Japan" using data from Japan's National Institute of Population and Social Security Research, it was revealed that the comparison was not suitable due to the huge gap in the villages' age profile. While Taiji and Kozagawa showed 34.9 percent and 44 percent of the population were over 65 years old, the compared villages showed 21 percent to 27.9 percent.[18]

In May 2012, NIMD announced the results of further tests. In 2010 and 2011, 700 Taiji residents were tested for mercury in their hair, and 117 males and 77 females who exhibited 10 ppm underwent further neurological tests. Again, no participant displayed any signs of mercury poisoning.[19] In August 2012, the research project to investigate the health effects of mercury on children was launched by NIMD.[20][21]

Environmentalist activities[edit]

Hardy Jones, who founded BlueVoice.org with film star Ted Danson in 2000, has gone to Taiji numerous times to try to stop the capture of dolphins and small whales. His film The Dolphin Defender, produced by the PBS series Nature documents these events.

A film titled The Cove (formerly The Rising) was secretly recorded over five years with high-tech video and sound equipment in Taiji. This full-length documentary was funded by billionaire James H. Clark and shows controversial dolphin killing techniques and discusses high mercury levels in Taiji dolphin meat.[22] When the film won an Oscar, the mayor of Taiji and the chief of the Taiji Fishery Union said, "Dolphin and whale hunting in Taiji is not an illegal act, [it is] in compliance with the Fisheries Act and under Wakayama Prefecture's approval."[23] Taiji town officials have also contested some of the scientific evidence presented by the film, and have claimed that the filmmakers deceived them on several points.

Since the release of the film, a larger number of activists, mainly non-Japanese, have visited Taiji to protest or film the dolphin hunts. The activists observe and monitor the hunting throughout the hunting season from September until it ends in April. The Taiji fishermen responded by constructing an elaborate structure of tarps to better conceal the drive-hunting activities in and around the cove.[24]

Activists report that they have been harassed when trying to document the hunts by local supporters of the dolphin fishermen. Although the culling cove is adjacent to Yoshino Kumano Kokuritsu Koen (Yoshino-Kumano National Park), the park is often sealed to visitors by the police during the hunts.[25] In 2011, a police box staffed with 10 policemen was placed near the cove to prevent conflict between the protesters and the fishermen.[26][27]

Taiji Twelve[edit]

The Taiji Twelve is a term used by anti-dolphin hunting campaigners to describe a group of dolphins captured in a dolphin drive hunt outside of the town of Taiji, Wakayama, Japan in October 2006.[28] The Ocean World Adventure Park in the Dominican Republic had placed an order for twelve dolphins for the captive swim program.[29]

Following the beginning of a drive hunt in 2006, The Ocean World Adventure Park was awaiting the fulfillment of an order for twelve dolphins to ship to the Dominican Republic. These dolphins were intended for various swimming programs at the Ocean World Adventure Park. After the dolphins were driven into the cove, trainers from Japan, the United States, and the Dominican Republic waded in, took hold of certain dolphins, and performed measurements and tests to determine if they were acceptable.

The trainers were looking for twelve young females to fill the order. After the twelve were identified, they were separated and placed in holding cages, after which other dolphins of the pod were slaughtered for commercial purposes.[citation needed]

Although most of the dolphins captured were earmarked for export, a coalition headed by the Japan Dolphins Coalition's marine-mammal specialist Richard O'Barry, with Earth Island Institute, tried to block their export to Dominican Republic.[30] The exportation was eventually cancelled.[28]

See also[edit]



  1. ^ "Taiji told to stop dolphin carnage or sister ties end". The Japan Times. 25 August 2009. Retrieved 25 August 2009. 
  2. ^ Matsutani, Minoru, "Details on how Japan's dolphin catches work", Japan Times, September 23, 2009, p. 3.
  3. ^ 太地は古式捕鯨発祥の地として名高く、当地の豪族、和田家一族の忠兵衛頼元が尾張師崎(知多半島の突端)の漁師・伝次と泉州堺の浪人伊右衛門とともに捕鯨技術の研究を進め、慶長11年(1606年)太地浦を基地として、大々的に突捕り法による捕鯨を始めました。
  4. ^ http://www.town.taiji.wakayama.jp/kankou/sub_01.html その後、延宝3年(1675年)和田頼治(のちの太地角右エ門)が網取り法を考案したことによって太地の捕鯨は飛躍的に発展しました。 紀州藩の保護もあって、「捕鯨の本場太地」は天下にその名をとどろかせ、熊野灘の捕鯨は最盛期を迎えました。
  5. ^ "Taiji dolphin hunt begins: about 100 dolphins and 50 pilot whales driven into cove". Japan Probe. 2009-09-09. Retrieved 2010-08-31. 
  6. ^ "Who killed Flipper?", Salon.com.
  7. ^ Paul Kenyon (2004), reporter for the BBC. BBC's dining with the dolphin hunters, retrieved on June 21, 2008.
  8. ^ Kjeld Duits (2005), Japan correspondent for Environmental News Service (ENS). Activists Worldwide Protest Japan's Dolphin Slaughter, ENS article retrieved on June 21, 2008.
  9. ^ Kjeld Duits (2005), Japan correspondent for Environmental News Service (ENS). Activists Worldwide Protest Japan's Dolphin Slaughter, ENS article retrieved on June 21, 2008.
  10. ^ Kjeld Duits (2005), Japan correspondent for Environmental News Service (ENS). Activists Worldwide Protest Japan's Dolphin Slaughter, ENS article retrieved on June 21, 2008.
  11. ^ Kjeld Duits (2005), Japan correspondent for Environmental News Service (ENS). Activists Worldwide Protest Japan's Dolphin Slaughter, ENS article retrieved on June 21, 2008.
  12. ^ Journal of Applied Animal Welfare Science, Volume 16, Issue 2, 2013, DOI: 10.1080/10888705.2013.768925, Andrew Butterworth, Philippa Brakes, Courtney S. Vail & Diana Reiss pages 184-204, published online: April 1, 2013.
  13. ^ Johnston, Eric, "Mercury danger in dolphin meat", Japan Times, September 23, 2009, p. 3.
  14. ^ 平成15年6月3日に公表した「水銀を含有する魚介類等の 摂食に関する注意事項」について
  15. ^ 2008/6/13 熊本日日新聞記事「鯨から高濃度水銀」 2008/6/16 AERA「『鯨の町』住民から水銀40倍」について
  16. ^ Matsutani, Minoru, "Taiji locals test high for mercury: In surprise, experts fail to discover any signs of illness", Japan Times, May 10, 2010, p. 1.
  17. ^ Matsutani, Minoru, "Most Taiji residents rest easy, refuse to change diet", Japan Times, May 10, 2010, p. 2.
  18. ^ Harnell, Boyd, "Experts fear Taiji mercury tests are fatally flawed", Japan Times, May 23, 2010, p. 12.
  19. ^ "Taiji residents relieved to hear "it's safe" again", Asahi Shinbun, May 31, 2012.
  20. ^ "Investigation of mercury health effect on elementary school children in Taiji", Yomiuri Shinbun, Aug 7, 2012.
  21. ^ Gilhooly, Rob, "Taiji drops anchor on dolphin hunts despite increasing pressure", Japan Times, 20 September 2015
  22. ^ Boyd Harnell. "Secret film will show slaughter to the world". Japan Times Online. The Japan Times. Retrieved 2008-03-31. 
  23. ^ アカデミー賞:「ザ・コーヴ」受賞に和歌山反発; Matsutani, Minoru, "'Cove' Oscar is Taiji's chagrin", Japan Times, March 9, 2010, p. 1.
  24. ^ Harnell, Boyd, "Eyewitness to slaughter in Taiji's killing coves", The Japan Times, 14 February 2007.
  25. ^ Harnell, Boyd, "Eyewitness to slaughter in Taiji's killing coves", The Japan Times, 14 February 2007.
  26. ^ Alabaster, Jay, (Associated Press), and Kyodo News, "Activists may shift tactics in Taiji; Sigh of relief" and The Japan Times, 3 March 2011, p. 3.
  27. ^ Kyodo News, "Typhoon delays Taiji dolphin hunt", Japan Times, 2 September 2011, p. 2.
  28. ^ a b Japan's Export Of 'The Taiji Twelve' Dolphins To The Dominican Republic Stopped November 26, 2007 Underwater Times
  29. ^ Taiji officials: Dolphin meat 'toxic waste' Assembly pair break taboo, warn of acute mercury risk in school lunches August 1, 2007 The Japan Times
  30. ^ Eyewitness to slaughter in Taiji's killing coves A gruesome fate befalls thousands of dolphins in Japan every year February 14, 2007 The Japan Times