When the Oscar-winning documentary The Cove was released in 2009, it was met with international outrage as people learned about the disturbing secret the small coastal town of Taiji was keeping – the brutal slaughter of thousands of dolphins and other small whales every year.
People were horrified to learn that these animals were being rounded up and killed, while their mercury-laden meat was being distributed to the public and often mislabeled as whale meat. A Care2 petition gathered more than 473,000 signatures opposing the slaughter. A growing number of scientists and marine mammal biologists have added their names to an open letter opposing these hunts.
This year, an estimated 900 were killed and fishermen ended the hunt early for the fourth year in a row thanks to ongoing public pressure. Another 247 were kept alive and sold for captivity, according to Mark Palmer, the Associate Director of Earth Island Institute’s International Marine Mammal Project.
Unfortunately, while many hoped that exposing this cruelty would stop the slaughter, it hasn’t ended. Instead, a new slaughter method was implemented that Japanese researchers from the Fisheries Research Agency and Taiji Fisheries Association claimed was more humane, but according to scientists and dolphin advocates it is just as cruel as the previous methods, which involved rounding them up, trapping them and stabbing them with knives and spears.
A study conducted by U.S. and British scientists published in the Journal of Applied Animal Welfare Science this month assessed the new killing method – which involves impaling dolphins (often repeatedly) to sever their spinal cord and plugging the hole with a wooden stick – and concluded that it is no less cruel than using harpoons or knives and may actually take longer for dolphins to die.
“Our analysis also addresses the entire process of killing, including the rounding up of the dolphins at sea, the confinement in a cove for sometimes days, and then the actual dragging and herding to shore where they are killed in front of their kin and close allies ― all of which is extremely stressful and inhumane,” co-author Diana Reiss, a cognitive psychologist at Hunter College who was an adviser on The Cove told the Japan Times.
The video footage used for the study was captured covertly in 2011 by an independent journalist for AtlanticBlue, a German dolphin-protection group that was trying to verify the studies conducted by Japanese researchers. The group believes the main purpose of this new method is to get people to believe that the lack of blood in the water from plugging the puncture wounds means it is more humane, but their footage proved quite contrary and found that the dolphins do not die within a few seconds as researchers had claimed.
According to the study:
The method induces paraplegia (paralysis of the body) and death through trauma and gradual blood loss. This killing method does not conform to the recognized requirement for “immediate insensibility” and would not be tolerated or permitted in any regulated slaughterhouse process in the developed world.
Even if this new method did meet slaughterhouse standards, the drive hunts would still likely be no less controversial. When asked about the bigger picture in regards to this study’s findings, Reiss told the New York Times:
Dolphins are a cognitively and socially complex species that exist in their own societies in the seas. To see any animal treated in this way is shocking. Given what we know scientifically about the awareness, sensitively, cognitive and social prowess of dolphins, this treatment is unjustifiable and unacceptable and needs to be stopped immediately. In the larger context of human and non-human animal relations, the methods used to herd dolphins and then kill them is off-the chart in terms of any concern for animal welfare. At a time when most countries are concerned for the conservation and welfare of dolphins and whales it is strange and disturbing to see a modern country like Japan continue to ignore scientific knowledge and concern for these species.
In most modern countries these mammals are protected but sadly we see these exceptions. Our scientific knowledge needs to transcend cultural and geographic boundaries and these species need global protection.
Hopefully this will be a case where science can help dictate policy when it comes to slaughtering cetaceans. According to Palmer, as more people are learning about the cruelty involved and the mercury contamination in dolphin meat, hunters are having more trouble selling it and slaughterhouse freezers are rumored to be full.
However, the demand for dolphins to be used in captivity in popular tourist destinations in the Middle East and Caribbean, among other places, appears to be rising, which highlights the importance of avoiding facilities that keep dolphins and whales in captivity – it’s an industry that helps fuel this barbaric slaughter every year. Some believe that if it weren’t for the profits brought in from selling live dolphins, the hunts would have already ended.
For more information about how to help these dolphins, visit Save Japan Dolphins.
Photo credit: Thinkstock
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