Once again it is the “dolphin season” where a number of Japanese fishermen (dolphinmen?) head out in search of dolphins. If you don’t know the story by now then let me explain.
A group of boats heads out from small town of Taiji into the surrounding sea and finds a pod of passing dolphins. The hunters then spread out, place metal poles in the water and hit them with hammers. Why? To confuse the sonar of the dolphins and gradually force them into a cove in Taiji. Now cornered, the hunters place a net over the exit of the cove and begin the process of stabbing all the dolphins to death. They claim to exactly break the spinal cord and kill the dolphins instantly; this claim turns out to be untrue. Often the dolphins bleed to death over a long period of time, turning the water of the cove a very bright red. Dolphin trainers from around the world gather in Taiji and select the dolphins they want, before helping to kill the ones they don’t want. The chosen dolphins are rounded up and put in crates which are taken around the world to aquariums and sea life centres. Although places like SeaWorld have dolphins they are hardly the only ones and the “Blackfish” controversy has detracted from the fact that many animals are still performing around the world in places other than SeaWorld. Each captive dolphin earns the hunters around $32,000, a trained dolphin moving between aquariums can be over $150,000 so this is a huge industry. In contrast a dead dolphin is only worth about $500. If the captive dolphin industry didn’t exist it is unlikely the hunts would exist as it would not highly profitable.
Note: The photo quality isn’t great as they were taken by hidden cameras. Japan is very protective of this cove and doesn’t let people near it.
The Taiji story first became an issue due to a documentary called “The Cove”, an undercover documentary made partly by the Sea Shepherds and by Ric O’Barry. Ric O’Barry is famous for the TV show “Flipper” in which he appeared with trained, captured dolphins. This then led to the demand for dolphins and led to him feeling guilty about the whole thing and devoting his life to saving the dolphins.
You may wonder what they do with the dead dolphins? Well they eat them. Ah, you say, but dolphins are top predators and so their meat is surely full of toxins? Yes indeed it is. Dolphin meat is not something eaten by the Japanese elite, it’s a far cry from whale meat which is seen as much more of a status symbol.
So what do the Japanese officials do about having toxic meat that no one wants? They write, “Whale meat” on the packet and sell it in supermarkets. We know this as it has been DNA tested. The DNA of one of the Japanese officials who claimed that it was whale meat was also tested. It turns out he has mercury poisoning from the high mercury levels in the dolphin meat. Mercury is present in dolphin meat and is the second most toxic element on earth. The most toxic element is plutonium, which was released in the Fukushima disaster and was the same element that was modified to produce the bomb dropped on Hiroshima.
An industrial accident in Japan many years ago lead to something called “Minimata disease”, which was not actually a disease but was the bioaccumulation of lead and mercury in seafood. When eaten by humans it caused illness and birth deformities. Bearing in mind that the Japanese suffered radiation poisoning from nuclear weapons and from Fukushima, you would have assumed this nation would have gone to great lengths to prevent poisonings occurring. Instead they seem to deliberately covering up the problem . Of the 700 people tested in Taiji, 28% of them were found to be suffering from mercury poisoning.
Gradually however the news that the people are being lied to and poisoned has spilled out. The Japanese public were among the last to find out and the most upset. This led to protests and a decline in the amount of dolphin hunting and whale hunting. Around 750 dolphins were killed last year, as opposed to around 1600 in 2004 (Figures are a little hard to come by). Japanese aquariums are no longer allowed to buy dolphins from Taiji nor are most aquariums around the world. Not legally anyway. The problem is not the fear of dolphins being wiped out. They are doing fairly well and there is an argument that they are fair game and can be hunted. In fact if dolphins weren’t intelligent and cute no one would really care. The main problem is that hunting something toxic is a thoroughly pointless thing to do.
The things is though, the killing and capturing is not illegal. In fact the hunters claim they are actually increasing the fish stocks in the region by removing the dolphins. This is a pretty big claim that lacks any evidence at all. There have been many efforts to close the dolphin hunting operation down, mainly illegally by activists. Some have succeeded in slowing the process down but this led to political problems, as the activists were foreign. It has also led to security around the cove at all times meaning what goes on is kept hidden apart from a few adventurous activists and hidden cameras which record the activities.
As a cartoon once wrote,
Person 1“So dolphins are more intelligent than humans?”
Person 2 “Yes, they are more intelligent”
Person 1 “So why do they not have us in captivity?”
Person 2 “Because they are more intelligent”
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