By Carla Baker, communications intern
On August 28 2007, a great white shark attacked surfer, Todd Endris three times at Marina State Park off Monterey, California. Just in time, a pod of bottlenose dolphins appeared, creating a barrier around Endris and protecting the surfer from the shark as he safely swam to shore.
If this extraordinary story of survival doesn’t reveal the sheer intelligence of the dolphin, I don’t know what will.
Yet each year, thousands of these responsive cetaceans are ripped from their wild environments, and subjected to what can only be described as inhumane treatment.
This takes place in Taiji: a small Japanese coastal town situated 360 miles from the nation’s capital. From September to March, up to 2000 dolphins are killed in Taiji.
The 2015-2016 drive fisheries quota has stated a figure of 1,702 dolphin slaughters this season. Regional Japanese fishermen track the dolphins’ travel routes and capture them from the open water, driving them into a small, concealed lagoon – now known globally as ‘the cove’.
Evidence reveals that cetacean hunting in the area is an age-old practice; however, dolphin “drive hunting” began only in 1970. The fisherman disorient the dolphins by creating a loud wall of sound underwater – allowing them to drive the dolphins into the cave. The bay is then lined with nets.
Here, the most attractive of the captured dolphins, such as the Bottlenose species that resemble the loveable dolphin, Flipper are selected and sold to international marine-park/dolphinariums for approximately $200,000 USD each.
These wild creatures will now endure a life of performance tricks in captivity. The 2009 Academy award-winning documentary The Cove exposed the dolphin slaughters and harsh realities of their captivity to the world. As it explained: “Taiji is the largest supplier of dolphins to marine and swim with the dolphin programs around the world.”
Those dolphins not sold into captivity, however, have an even darker fate. The remaining cetaceans are slaughtered for their meat – with fisherman making a profit of up to $600 per dolphin. This process is horrific for the animal – a metal pole is driven into their spinal cord.
From here, they are sold for human consumption. Alarmingly, dolphin meat contains high levels of mercury. The Ocean Preservation Society warns of the dangers in consuming the meat saying mercury is, “the most toxic non-radioactive element on Earth.”
On September 11 2015, just 11 days into the dolphin drive hunt season, about 12 Risso dolphins were slaughtered. Eight days later, a pod of 75-80 bottlenose dolphins were captured and driven into the cove. Fifty of those dolphins were selected for captivity.
Thankfully, however, progress is being made with many dedicated organisations committed to ending the senseless slaughter in Taiji.
One man at the forefront of this battle is Ric O’Barry, who has been working for the protection of dolphins for 40 years.
He is founder and director of Ric O’Barry’s Dolphin Project, which has established a petition for people to sign a pledge against attending dolphin shows. To date, he and his team have collected 39,136 signatures. They have also established a donation portal for people passionate about the cause.
On October 16, 2015 a demonstration will be held against the Taiji dolphin slaughters at the Japanese Embassy in London.
It is through these acts of resistance, that significant change is beginning to occur. On July 3 2015, the Japanese Association of Zoos and Aquariums announced that, “member aquariums can be expelled for acquiring dolphins caught in the brutal hunts in Taiji.”
JAZA will also require members to provide certificates including where their dolphins were purchased. This action eventuated from a threat of eviction by the World Association of Zoos and Aquariums (WAZA), with the discovery that JAZA’s dolphin purchases had dishonored its code of ethics and animal welfare. The Ric O’Barry Dolphin Project team was crucial in this positive step.
Despite this promising progress, boats are consistently seen entering dolphin territory in Taiji as the routine dolphin captures/slaughters continue.
Sadly, this issue is still a very real problem, but the more we stand up – not only as individuals, but as a community – the less we will see blood-drenched waters in Taiji.