Since the 1600s, Taiji, a tiny fishing village in Japan, has been brutally slaughtering dolphins during an annual hunting festival that runs from September to March. Despite heated debate and international attention, the dolphin hunting tradition shows no signs of slowing down.
Villagers of the small fishing of Taiji have been refining its dolphin and whale hunting techniques, which they are known for, since the seventeenth century. Unfortunately, the brutal tradition that placed this small town on the map in 1675 is still present today.
A select group of local fishermen will carry out the hunting. These men will then move their boats somewhere near a pod of dolphins and then lower the end of a steel pipe into the water and begin hitting it with mallets to set up a deadly trap. They do this so they can ensure the dolphins won’t escape because the technique helps drive the them closer to land and into the nets.
The dolphins are left over night so they calm down from their agitated and frightened state. The fishermen will then enter the bay in their small boats and attack the dolphins one at a time in the next day. Traditionally, they would cut the dolphins’ throats and let them slowly bleed to death. Such a gruesome killing method.
The Japanese government has officially sanctioned a more humane technique and banned the horrible method. The humane method is severing the dolphins’ brain stem by driving a metal pin into the neck of the animal. The dolphin is expected to die within seconds, instead of the slow, horrible demise.
However, this new sanctioned killing technique is still so cruel and creates so much terror and pain that its illegal to kill cows in Japan that way, according to a 2013 study.
Other dolphins are sold for their meat, while the best-looking dolphins are kept alive and sold to aquariums.
Lincoln O’Barry, an activist with The Dolphin Project, said in an interview with RYOT that banning the hunting would put 50 out of the 300 fishermen in the village out of business. However, many of the local Taiji fishermen say that their livelihoods depend on the annual dolphin hunting tradition because it is their main source of income.
Nowadays, the primary objective is no longer about killing dolphins because a wild live dolphin sold to an aquarium can be worth well over $130,000 compared to a dead dolphin that is worth $500. However, there are still fishermen who make most of their profits and benefit from the slaughter.
Researchers found that people in Japan who ate the dolphin meat from Taiji had a high level of mercury in their hair in 2000. Hair samples were tested again, and researchers found that none showed signs of mercury poisoning in 2009.
Thanks to the 2009 Oscar award–winning documentary The Cove, the dolphin slaughter in Taiji garnered international attention. The documentary followed the battle of activists against police and local fishermen in an attempt to stop the annual dolphin hunting tradition.
Taiji officials said that the people behind the documentary had “psychologically tortured” the fisherman. Ultra-right Japanese threatened movie theaters that showed the documentary.
Many activists thought that The Cove would finally end the bloody tradition because it ignited a heated debate in Japanese media. However, things don’t always end that way. The annual Taiji dolphin hunt kicked off again on September 3, 2015, despite intense protest and activism.