In Japan, fishermen round up and slaughter hundreds and even thousands of dolphins and other small whales each year.
In the small fishing village of Taiji, entire schools of dolphins are driven into a hidden cove after a prolonged chase. Once trapped inside the cove, the fishermen kill the dolphins, slashing their throats with knives or stabbing them with spears. The water turns red with their blood, and the air fills with their screams.
This brutal massacre — the largest scale dolphin kill in the world — goes on for six months of every year. Even more scandalous, members of the international dolphin display industry take advantage of the dolphin slaughter to obtain some few, show-quality dolphins for use in captive dolphin shows and dolphin swim programs.
It is commonly assumed that Japanese fishermen hunt dolphins to supply a small minority of Japanese people with dolphin meat. But unlike the expensive whale meat, dolphin meat is not considered a delicacy in Japan, and the real reason the Japanese government issues permits to kill dolphins by the thousands every year has nothing to do with food culture. It has to do with pest control. As shocking as it sounds, some Japanese government officials view dolphins as pests to be eradicated in huge numbers. During a meeting at Taiji City Hall, the fishermen of Taiji admitted this to us. "We don’t kill the dolphins primarily for their meat. We kill them as a form of pest control," they told us. In other words, killing the competition is their way of preserving the ocean’s fish for themselves.
Most likely in order to push the food culture issue even further, the Japanese government recently introduced pilot whale meat to children's school lunch programs, despite the fact that the meat is tainted with mercury and not fit for human consumption. The Japanese government and the dolphin hunters do not warn the Japanese people of this danger, although the dolphin meat should be labeled as toxic. Much of the tainted dolphin meat ends up as counterfeit whale meat in Tokyo and other large cities.
Science has established that dolphins are highly intelligent and complex marine mammals. How can "pest control" on dolphins continue with so little opposition from the Japanese people and the outside world? The answer is secrecy. Since we first traveled to Japan in 2003 to document the dolphin hunt and expose it to the world, the fishermen have become increasingly paranoid about being photographed and filmed. Today, they hide the dolphin slaughter behind barbed wire, ropes and tarpaulin. Killing the dolphins before daylight breaks, they station guards at the mouth of the killing cove to ensure that no one witnesses the blood bath.
The fishermen say they kill the dolphins "quickly and humanely." That's an outright lie. The methods used to kill the dolphins are so savage, it's hard to believe it unless you witness it for yourself. And once you've seen it, the images and sounds of the screaming dolphins never go away. The fishermen know that the world will be outraged when the truth gets out. And so, guided by their government, they hide behind phrases such as "food culture" and "tradition." They even once told us they are proud of what they do. If they had told us they were having fun while killing dolphins, we would have believed them. We have heard them laugh out loud as they were throwing spears at the dolphins and hauling them ashore with ropes, or dragging still live dolphins by their tail flukes to be slaughtered. If they were really proud of this, then why do they go to such extreme measures hiding it? Why won’t they even let their own people know about the hunt? We asked them this once, and the answer was: "It is none of their business." But it is their business. The Japanese people have every right to know about the dolphin slaughter. And they have a right to know about the mercury-poisoned dolphin meat that is being fed to their children.