Photo by ryn413 via Flickr CC
It looks like things are still going better this year than in years past for dolphins swimming near Taiji, Japan. The latest word is that earlier this week, 70 of the 100 dolphins gathered in a recent roundup were released. It looks like the pressure put on Taiji thanks to international exposure through the documentary The Cove and non-profits has been effective to a surprising extent. Meanwhile, Taiji fishermen and local officials work to defend their reputation. Taiji Isn't The Whole Story
According to Time, Taiji is responsible for about 20% of Japan's annual dolphin catch of around 20,000, and locals feel they were unfairly singled out as a guilty party in what is simply a long tradition and an income stream for their fishermen.
The new wave of criticism of dolphin hunting that has been spurred by the film has many fishermen and local bureaucrats rolling their eyes over what they interpret as a another bout of foreign outrage at a practice that is legal, regulated and culturally acceptable in Japan, where dolphin meat -- like whale -- is eaten in the regions where it's hunted.
Meanwhile, the people of Taiji, pop. circa 3,400, believe they have been unfairly singled out. While Taiji has a 400-year history of whale and dolphin hunting, its fishermen catch less than 20% of Japan's yearly dolphin quota. Iwate prefecture catches the most of any area, bringing in a total of 11,070 dolphins in 2006 and 10,218 in 2007.
But The Numbers Can Seem Fishy
The numbers of dolphins caught and killed every year in Japan in general and in Taiji specifically, vary depending on what source you are looking at. We connected with The Cove director Louie Psihoyos who states: "Twenty three thousand [dolphins] are what was killed around all Japan at one point a few years back. The official catch quota for all dolphin/porpoises around all Japan is now 21,000. The amount of dolphins killed in Taiji is about 2300-2400."
But he also notes that this number needs to be taken with an amount of skepticism as sometimes numbers from Japanese fishermen can be, well, fudged a bit. "The Japanese were caught overfishing Bluefin Tuna by 170,000 tons the last 20 years. You publish the Japanese numbers of dolphins caught based on their history with the truth, they are probably suspect."
He also let us know in a follow up email, "I'm told now that the catch quota for the Taiji Dolphin harvest now have been reduced from 2300-2400 to just a 200+ per year. That number comes from Richard O'Barry."
Ric O'Barry has been in quick contact with us and we'll be able to get additional details both about numbers, as well as what's happening in Taiji since the start of the hunting season to you shortly.
One great thing about this year's count, however, is that there are so many eyes on The Cove and everywhere in Japan that the numbers are bound to be a little lower, and a little more reliable.
Taiji Might Not Be the Only One, But It Might Be the Cruelest
Back to the issue of the hunt itself and Taiji's stance, the situation can seem conflicted. On the one hand, there is a long tradition of hunting whales and dolphins in Japan. On the other hand, there is the brutal slaughter of the animals. Time reports:
Masashi Nishimura, manager of the Japan Fisheries Association's international section, who also works with environmental issues, says most Japanese people don't know much about the dolphin hunts. "I don't think it's a big topic here," he says. "As long as [their killing] is humane, dolphins are like other animals to us."
If you've had an opportunity to watch The Cove, where the makers went undercover to record what really happens in Taiji and how the dolphins are killed, it is anything but humane. In fact, it is horrific. The method used in Taiji - the only place in Japan to currently do this - is called oikomi, where dolphins are rounded up into shallow water and harpooned one by one, swimming for days in their fellow pod-member's blood. So while it is subjectively an overreaction to call Japan out for its dolphin hunts, it seems well within reason for people to be outraged by what happens in Taiji specifically.
More on Taiji's Dolphin Hunt
Bad News at The Cove - Taiji Dolphin Hunt Begins
World-renowned Filmmaker Louie Psihoyos Fights Dolphin Slaughter in "The Cove"
Oceans 11 meets Flipper: Don't Miss "The Cove"