Taiji Cove dolphins: Japanese government defends 'lawful' slaughter as hunters prepare to kill 200 animals

Hundreds of dolphins are killed in a remote Japanese bay during hunting season. The town argues it is an important tradition, but conservationists maintain the bloody practice is inhumane

Tokyo

A A A

Japanese fisherman have begun the slaughter of hundreds of bottlenose dolphins this morning, campaigners said, amid an international outcry over the annual hunt. 

Members of the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society (SSCS), which is monitoring the cull, said fisherman had begun killing the dolphins corralled into the Taiji cove earlier this week at 7.30am.

Washington and Tokyo, normally the staunchest of allies, have been drawn into an unexpected diplomatic spat over the slaughter of the mammals in the secluded cove.

Japan’s top government spokesman Yoshihide Suga, defended the controversial cull in the town of Taiji as “lawful”, swatting away criticism from the US ambassador, Caroline Kennedy.

Ms Kennedy, the only surviving child of the assassinated US President John F Kennedy, joined the chorus of global outrage this week when she said her government opposed the practice. “Deeply concerned by inhumaneness of drive hunt dolphin killing,” she tweeted, as fresh images appeared online showing apparently bloodied dolphins being herded into the cove for the slaughter, which is expected to take place today.

Conservationists say a rare albino dolphin is among about 250 of the animals thrashing behind nets overnight. “Babies and mothers will be torn from each other’s sides as some are taken for captivity, some are killed, and others are driven back out to sea to fend for themselves,” said the SSCS.

The hunts are notoriously brutal. Fishermen on boats surround pods of migrating dolphins, lower metal poles into the sea and bang them to frighten the animals and disrupt their sonar. Once the dolphins are herded into the narrow cove, the fishermen attack them with knives, before dragging them to a harbour-side warehouse for slaughter. The best-looking dolphins are separated and sold to aquariums.

Ms Kennedy’s message was translated into Japanese and retweeted thousands of times, prompting a backlash by nationalists who resent Western criticism of the cull. “Laughable,” wrote one anonymous post to an online bulletin board. “What about the atomic bombing of Hiroshima, the indiscriminate bombings of Japanese cities and US killings in the Middle East?”

 

Traditionalists say dolphin and whale have been eaten locally for centuries. Restaurants and shops offer dolphin and whale sashimi and blubber, along with tuna and shark-fin soup. Dolphin meat sells for around £6-£10 a pound. Some local fishermen say the cull is necessary to keep dolphins from eating too many fish.

Taiji was exposed to worldwide scrutiny four years ago in the Oscar-winning documentary The Cove, which followed a party of eco-activists as they battled fishermen and police to stop the cull. The documentary was attacked by Japanese ultra-rightists who threatened cinemas that showed it, and by Taiji officials who said the documentary-makers had “psychologically tortured” the fishermen.

The Cove triggered a brief, heated debate in the Japanese media, which had largely ignored the practice until then. Many activists, including the most famous – Ric O’Barry, a former dolphin trainer-turned-campaigner – predicted the global spotlight would end the tradition. “I honestly believe when the world finds out about this it will be abolished,” he said.

But the annual cull of about 2,000 small porpoises and dolphins has continued. The former Guns n’Roses drummer Matt Sorum is among the latest high-profile campaigners to visit the town. “In what boats did they chase these dolphins with centuries ago?” he tweeted. “Lies… this has only been in the last 30 years… Greed not tradition.”

Last year the local prefecture announced plans to build a marine mammal park where it said tourists would be able swim alongside dolphins and whales, and sample local cuisine – including whale and dolphin meat. The plans drew yet more international flak but Taiji’s mayor Kazutaka Sangen was undeterred. “We are not going to change our plans for the town based on the criticism of foreigners,” he said. 

If anything, Taiji’s growing infamy has widened the cultural gulf between the town and the rest of the world. Taiji, which has a population of about 3,000 people, has installed a 24-hour police box to deal with the steady stream of activists making their way to the cove. Locals bristle at the sight of Westerners. 

Conservationists say the fishermen have already killed over 170 dolphins and small whales this year and taken 24 captive since the start of the new year.  A tweet from a team of activists overlooking the cove said the animals had spent a fourth night without food and would be slaughtered today by a party of about 40 to 60 fishermen.

“I’ve been here for three years and this is absolutely the largest I’ve seen driven into the cove,” Melissa Sehgal, leader of the Sea Shepherd group, told Australian media.

Ms Kennedy’s intervention has again produced a flurry of stories in the Japanese media. The state broadcaster NHK said the ambassador was known as an animal lover and her comments were likely to be taken in that light. “The debate is likely to continue,” it said. The message from Mr Sangen was more uncompromising. “The hunting of whales and dolphins has been carried out since long ago and is performed on scientific grounds,” he told Japanese reporters last night. “I will protect this tradition.”

The Independent’s Christmas Appeal for 2013 focused on wildlife conservation. It supports Space for Giants, a Kenya-based charity which protects elephants and prevents human-wildlife conflict. The organisation is preparing for a conference in London on 13 February to address the damage caused by poaching.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executives - OTE £60,000

£25000 - £60000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you passionate about Custom...

Recruitment Genius: Care Workers Required - The London Borough of Bromley

£15000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This homecare agency is based in Beckenh...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executives - OTE £50,000

£25000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you passionate about Custom...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executives - OTE £50,000

£25000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you passionate about Custom...

Day In a Page

Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas
La Famille Bélier is being touted as this year's Amelie - so why are many in the deaf community outraged by it?

Deaf community outraged by La Famille Bélier

The new film tells the story of a deaf-mute farming family and is being touted as this year's Amelie
10 best high-end laptops

10 best high-end laptops

From lightweight and zippy devices to gaming beasts, we test the latest in top-spec portable computers
Michael Carberry: ‘After such a tough time, I’m not sure I will stay in the game’

Michael Carberry: ‘After such a tough time, I’m not sure I will stay in the game’

The batsman has grown disillusioned after England’s Ashes debacle and allegations linking him to the Pietersen affair
Susie Wolff: A driving force in battle for equality behind the wheel

Susie Wolff: A driving force in battle for equality behind the wheel

The Williams driver has had plenty of doubters, but hopes she will be judged by her ability in the cockpit
Adam Gemili interview: 'No abs Adam' plans to muscle in on Usain Bolt's turf

'No abs Adam' plans to muscle in on Usain Bolt's turf

After a year touched by tragedy, Adam Gemili wants to become the sixth Briton to run a sub-10sec 100m
Calls for a military mental health 'quality mark'

Homeless Veterans campaign

Expert calls for military mental health 'quality mark'
Racton Man: Analysis shows famous skeleton was a 6ft Bronze Age superman

Meet Racton Man

Analysis shows famous skeleton was a 6ft Bronze Age superman
Garden Bridge: St Paul’s adds to £175m project’s troubled waters

Garden Bridge

St Paul’s adds to £175m project’s troubled waters
Stuff your own Christmas mouse ornament: An evening class in taxidermy with a festive feel

Stuff your own Christmas mouse ornament

An evening class in taxidermy with a festive feel
Joint Enterprise: The legal doctrine which critics say has caused hundreds of miscarriages of justice

Joint Enterprise

The legal doctrine which critics say has caused hundreds of miscarriages of justice
Freud and Eros: Love, Lust and Longing at the Freud Museum: Objects of Desire

Freud and Eros

Love, Lust and Longing at the Freud Museum