Hello there. I am Terry and I am a full-time undergraduate based in Singapore. I take photos, write a blog and design websites.

And no, I'm not a teddy bear.

Tradition? I call that bullocks.

Every single year, the tiny town of Taiji, Japan speaks volume by shocking the world of what they do. And it reeks of dolphin blood.

Taiji, a sleepy harbor town at the tip of the Kii peninsula south of Kyoto.

Taiji, a sleepy harbor town at the tip of the Kii peninsula south of Kyoto.

Taiji is a sleepy harbour town at the top of the Kii peninsula south of Kyoto. Tucked beyond narrow roads winding through the untouched Japanese wilderness, the town and it’s gruesome annual ‘festival’ (right. very right.) were nicely tucked beyond the attention of the world. A six-hour drive from Tokyo along the treacherous coastal road successfully kept the world at bay. Then came the Internet and cheap rail passes that provided easy, affordable access to the sleepy town, images and videos of their grotesque act soon drawn worldwide attention, attracting activists and protestors to the town.

But even that didn’t spell the death of Taiji’s annual dolphin massacre.

The annual massacre of 23,000

Bloodied water tainted with dolphin blood.

Bloodied water tainted with dolphin blood.

The autumn season marks the annual tradition – which I prefer to call it total bullocks as no sane individual would approve of the slaughter of dolphins being labelled as something of ‘cultural significance’ – of the mass-slaying of dolphins. Also known as dolphin drive hunting, the fishermen in small boats would disorientate the dolphins, drive them into a small cove boarded off underwater with nets and then kill them.

Annually, fishermen continue to plough the sea with their small boats. Spotting schools of dolphin, they will drop metal bars into the water and bang on them – the clanging sound of metals interferes with the hearing of dolphins, disorienting them and causing panic in the school. Fishermen would then drive the dolphins into a small cove, surrounded by net to prevent the dolphins’ escape.

The dolphins are not killed off after being ensnared – instead, the fishermen will leave them stranded overnight in an enclosed area, claiming that it makes their meat “sweeter”. The following day, dolphins were killed one by one by driving a metal pin into the neck of the dolphin, killing it in seconds. The problem is, the Japanese government banned slitting of the dolphin’s throat but the law is most probably weakly enforced – acts of evisceration and slitting of the throats of human-friendly creatures were recorded as late as October 2006. Look at the photo above – the dolphins were obviously not killed legally – slit lines, still bleeding, could be seen on the underbelly of the slain animals.

Mother and calves

Akira Takeuchi, the head of the Isana Union, denied the capture and separation of dolphin calves from their mothers, saying: “If it happens, female dolphins with nursing calves are always returned to the sea.”

This contradicts what Boyd Harnell witnessed at the museum and in the drives. Captured mothers and calves were apparently always separated — and the mothers usually slaughtered.

The next day, I saw only a few dolphin calves languishing in the bloodied cove. This was their sixth day of survival without their mother’s milk. They must have been starving. The skiffs were pulling in the nets, ignoring the calves. Some larger boats carried the final, freshly killed dolphins to the slaughterhouse. 1

Tension. Conflicts. Racism?

Arrest warrant out for Hayden Panettiere.

Arrest warrant out for Hayden Panettiere.

With the influx of activists, environmentalists, animal-lovers and protests, tension builds up before and during the annual dolphin hunt. Local fishermen speak with full of vengeance and hatred when foreigners were mentioned. They think we fail to recognize the economic and cultural implications of stopping the festival. They call the act of ours labelling their dolphin hint as ‘racist’ because we don’t understand their culture. Even if racist is marginally the right word for such context, I fail to find a logical explanation of why people who kill, torture dolphins and see them as pests (who compete with the locals for fishes)  shouldn’t be discriminated against.

Many in the town of Taiji regard slaughtering dolphins as a normal part of daily life. They see the campaign against the hunt as an attack on their culture and traditions.2

In Taiji, fishermen say that dolphin meat tastes something similar to beef – but when eaten raw, sashimi-style, the dark dolphin flesh resembles liver with a coppery aftertaste. While the taste lingers long after one has ingested the meat, the tangy smell of dolphin meat stays even longer – so much so that Japanese fishmonger Motohata Toshihiro expressed his displeasure of cutting dolphin because “the stink stays on you for days, even after several baths.” 3

Irony is at it’s best at the Taiji Whale Museum – while tickets were sold to visitors for them to ride on dolphin-shaped boats for dolphin-watching (how lovely, you’d think), non-performing dolphins were crammed into a small pool where dolphin trainers will pick the best for training at marine aquariums.

Abundance is not a license to kill

Taiji fishermen claimed that the dolphins were abundant – not only do they pose a risk of depleting fishes for the local population but controlled killing of them will pose no harm to biodiversity and marine ecology. Flawed argument, indeed – abundance is not a license to kill. While we wait for February of 2012 for the birth of the 7th billion human baby, the dominance of human population had not only endangered wildlife but also the earth itself – not to mention we’re being extremely abundant in nature too.

So, does that give them the legal right to kill a perfectly healthy adult?

What goes around, comes around, people.

Culling of dolphins in a shallow cove.

Culling of dolphins in a shallow cove.

Yea, go ahead and load yourselves with supposedly delicious dolphin meat. While fervently denied by many Japanese scholars, some dolphin meat may end up on the tables of Japanese households with 500 times more mercury 4than the legal limit. Japan as a highly industrialized country but a rather poorly regulated one during her boom had dumped millions of tons of toxic, mercury-rich waste into the sea for decades. The toxic compounds travel through and make their way up the food chain – and now it’s ending up all on your dolphin sashimi.

Despite the public awareness of mercury poisoning in Japan because of the Minamata disaster, the health and agriculture ministries have done little to inform people about mercury levels in whale and dolphin meat, Professor Endo and other biologists say. While the health ministry has conducted surveys of dolphins and pilot whales that show levels of 10 to 50 times the advisory level, the only warning it has issued is for pregnant women.5

“If the buying stops, the killing stops too”

But with dolphin meat being increasingly popular in Japanese and that dolphin-meat-eating being a deeply-seated culture among them, it’s hard to eradicate the demand for such meat. The buying never stops – so does the unethical killing of the dolphins.

Education and access to information is all they need – the Japanese people don’t need a boycott. If they knew the truth about the dolphin slaughter, they would help us to stop it.

The fishers who hunt and kill dolphins in Taiji agree with us. They revealed this to us at a meeting we had with them at Taiji City Hall. When they asked us why we had come to Taiji, we told them we wanted to document the methods used to conduct the dolphin massacres and let the Japanese people know the truth about their hunt. The fishers reply was, “The Japanese people have no right to know about the dolphin slaughter. It is none of their business.”6

  1. Eyewitness to slaughter in Taiji’s killing coves: A gruesome fate befalls thousands of dolphins in Japan every year by Boyd Harnell. http://search.japantimes.co.jp/cgi-bin/fe20070214a1.html
  2. How the dolphins being massacred to satisfy a food fetish are poisoning the Japanese who eat them by Danny Penman. http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/worldnews/article-1211311/Massacre-dolphins-How-dolphins-massacred-satisfy-food-fetish-poisoning-Japanese-eat-them.html
  3. Taiji: Japan’s Dolphin Cull and the Clash of Cultures by David McNeil. http://www.japanfocus.org/-David-McNeill/2306
  4. Statement from Taiji Whaling Association. http://oceanicdefense.blogspot.com/2009/09/statement-from-taiji-whaling.html
  5. Mercury Taint Divides a Japanese Whaling Town by Martin Fackler. http://www.nytimes.com/2008/02/21/world/asia/21dolphin.html?pagewanted=all
  6. Dolphin Slaughter in Taiji, Japan by Richard O’Barry. http://www.ikjeld.com/japannews/00000239.php
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