Activists Bring Legal Challenge Against Japanese Dolphin Slaughter

A first-of-its-kind lawsuit filed in Japan will attempt to stop the horrific annual dolphin slaughter that was the subject of the 2009 Academy Award winning documentary “The Cove.”

The UK organization Action for Dolphins and Japan’s Life Investigation Agency filed the lawsuit on February 13, 2019. And the groups are taking a new approach: using Japanese law rather than international law to stop “drive hunting” as a method of killing and capturing dolphins and other cetaceans.

You see, dolphins are small whales, not fish. Yet that’s how Japan classifies them — as fish.

While the International Whaling Commission has banned commercial whaling, there’s been no universal agreement among IWC countries regarding whether that ban necessarily includes smaller cetaceans like dolphins.

Without a strong consensus on this point and lacking a way to enforce the law, attempts to invoke international law haven’t worked. This is true even where large whales are concerned. Japanese fishermen just keep hunting.

“Dolphins are mistakenly viewed as ‘fish’ in Japan, and therefore domestic laws protecting mammals from cruelty have not been applied to them,” Sarah Lucas, chief executive of Action for Dolphins, told The Guardian.

But this lawsuit does what none others have tried. It asserts that dolphin “drive hunting” violates Japanese animal protection law. Dolphins and other cetaceans are demonstrably not fish; they are mammals. If Japan’s animal protection laws apply to mammals, this may be the legal action that actually works.

Should a Japanese court agree with the suit’s premise, the government of Japan will be hard pressed to refuse to enforce its own law.

“Many Japanese see dolphins as fish and mistakenly believe the animal welfare act does not apply to them,” Ren Yabuki, head of Life Investigation Agency, told the Japan Times. “I’ve seen many times that half-killed dolphins are taken away on small boats, thrashing about in pain.”

WHAT IS DRIVE HUNTING?

Every year, from September to March, Japanese fishermen take to the water near Taiji Cove in Taiji, Wakayama Prefecture. There, they pursue dolphins and other cetaceans using a technique called “drive hunting.”

If you haven’t watched this type of hunting in action in “The Cove,” you really need to do so. It’s not pleasant, but it’s eye opening.

Drive hunting is simple, effective and brutal. The fishermen go out into the cove in 12 boats as dawn approaches. When they spot a pod of dolphins, the boats line up behind one another and lower flared stainless steel poles in to the water on each side of every boat.

The fishermen begin striking the poles with hammers to produce what’s been described as a “wall of sound underwater.” The dolphins end up disoriented and trapped between land and the underwater noise. Frightened and unable to navigate properly, they allow themselves to be driven by the fishermen deeper and deeper into the cove.

dolphin pod

Photo credit: Getty Images

The fishermen seal all exits from the cove with nets and keep the dolphins swimming in confusion and fear — sometimes for hours, in an attempt to exhaust them. They’re typically held this way until the next day.

The fishermen then force the dolphins toward the rocky beach, where they kill many, capture others for sale to aquariums and live entertainment venues and release a lucky few.

It’s unknown how many of the released cetaceans later die as a result of the cruelty they experience in these killing coves at the hands of man.

The statistics for the number of small cetaceans captured or killed in Japan waters is sobering. The 2013-2014 total for all small whale and dolphin species allowed to be taken by harpoon, drive hunts and coastal whaling in Japan was 16,497 individuals, according to Whale and Dolphin Conservation.

While this lawsuit won’t stop all forms of dolphin hunting, it aims to stop unnecessary harm. Perhaps if a Japanese court views all these hunting methods as too cruel, this litigation will have a far reaching effect on the Japanese whaling industry.

Photo credit: Getty Images

91 comments

Leanne K
Leanne K4 months ago

No thanks I have enough ghastly images seared into my psyche. Ive seen pictures, I can imagine. I will not watch this horror.

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Leanne K
Leanne K4 months ago

It simply must stop. It has to. Let them be successful in court. Let there be no trade or tourism until they stop this and their whaling. Anyone who goes there is supporting this. If we stop they stop it’s as simple as that

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Greta L
Past Member 4 months ago

tyfs

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Beverly D
Beverly D4 months ago

I watched it live on Ric O'Barry's Dolphin Project Facebook page yesterday for over two hours until the slaughtering started. I was crying for these precious Dolphins thrashing about. One escaped jumping over the net, only to go through the hell of hearing his pod being slaughtered! I pray for this to end with this lawsuit Thanks & God bless~

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Beverly D
Beverly D4 months ago

Taiji: For over an hour, hunters fought at the mouth of the Cove to trap a mixed pod of bottlenose and Risso’s dolphins. Some dolphins were able to escape, but 6 bottlenose and 21 Risso’s were not as fortunate.

All 6 bottlenose, as well as 2 Risso’s dolphins, were taken by dolphin trainers for a life in captivity, while the other 19 Risso’s were slaughtered on the beach.

Feb. 25 2019 3:47pm
#dolphinproject

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Beverly D
Beverly D4 months ago

Three species of dolphins were decimated in Week #26 of Taiji’s hunts. Be a voice for the voiceless.
TAKE ACTION: http://dolphin.fyi/HelpJapanDolphins

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Mark Donner
Mark Donner4 months ago

The Japanese have viciousness, cruelty, greed in their veins. You think the Japanese mafia government is going to listen?

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Richard B
Richard B4 months ago

Thank you

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Cindy M. D
Cindy M. D4 months ago

Keeping my fingers crossed and hoping with all my heart this lawsuit works. It breaks my heart that action like this is even necessary. Where is human compassion???!!!

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heather g
heather g4 months ago

The Japanese give themselves such a bad reputation with this annual killing

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