Ren Yabuki, an animal rights activist whose drone footage of the distressed whale sparked international outrage, told reporters on Monday Japanese fishermen had drowned the adolescent creature, which was already weak due to it not being able to feed since first being penned in to a cove on Christmas Eve.
“There were two ships that worked together to put a rope around the tail fin and force the whale’s head beneath the water”, Mr Yabuki said earlier today. “They kept it alongside the boat and it took about 20 minutes for the whale to drown.”
He said the killing took place at around 6.30am and had left him “shaking with sadness”.
“That’s a really bad way for an animal to die and I’m shaking with sadness at what I have seen this morning,” Mr Yabuki said.
Once fishermen had slain the whale, its body was pulled up onto one of the boat’s decks, covered with blue tarpaulin and taken back to shore – where it was later butchered.
Mr Yabuki said, from what he understood, the building where the body was taken is owned by the town’s fishing cooperative, and that its meat would later appear on the shelves of local supermarkets.
The same local fishing cooperative said last week it would attempt to free the whale, which measured around four or five metres in length, according to Mr Yabuki. But he witnessed fishers make just one “half-hearted” attempt to free the animal soon after it became trapped as bycatch on 24 December.
Apparently, the whale’s size, as well as strong tidal currents, made it hard for the cooperative to do much.
As the director of Japan’s Life Investigation Agency (LIA), an animal rights organisation, Mr Yabuki made multiple calls for fishermen to release the whale – he even urged members of the public to message the governor of Wakayama Prefecture (in which Taiji sits) to demand that he intervene. But to no avail.
LIA was joined by the likes of the Humane Society International (HIS) in condemning the young whale’s brutal killing, with a spokesperson for HSI’s Australian branch saying the organisation was “saddened by this dreadful outcome”.
“It is soul-destroying to think that by merely lifting the net three weeks ago, this poor animal could have been swimming free instead of being trapped in prolonged distress only to be harpooned and butchered for commercial sale in local markets,” HSI’s animal welfare programme manager, Georgie Dolphin, said in a statement.
“It is soul-destroying to think that by merely lifting the net three weeks ago, this poor animal could have been swimming freed instead of being trapped in prolonged distress”.
Taiji, located in a remote part of the Pacific coast, garnered worldwide attention – and disapproval – for its annual dolphin “drive hunts” back in 2009, after the release of the Oscar-winning 2009 documentary The Cove.
Some of the animals are spared and sold to aquariums and marine parks, while others are slaughtered for their meat.
Speaking to The Independent on Monday, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals’ (Peta) director Elisa Allen said the “horrors inflicted on this whale – a sentient being like you and me, with just as much feeling and fear in him” are “unimaginable”.
“Japan’s reputation is stained with the blood of this whale,” she said, “and unless the country embraces 21st century knowledge of who animals are and promotes whale watching over whale killing, it’ll face condemnation for its cruelty.”
While Japan abandoned its so-called “scientific” whaling programme in the Antarctic after years of international pressure, the country resumed commercial whaling in its own waters in July 2019. HSI said in this year alone, Japanese whalers are permitted to catch up to 383 large whales, including 171 minkes.
“Peta reminds everyone rightly outraged by these hunts that they can take a stand against this violence by shunning the commercial fishing industry, too, which ensnares not only countless whales but also dolphins and other ocean-dwelling animals,” Ms Allen added.
“We can all do our bit by leaving marine animals – big and small – off our plates and opting instead for humane vegan options.”
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