Ex-dolphin hunter denounces Japanese tradition

BY Robert Pursell  March 19, 2014 at 6:57 PM EDT
Photo by Flickr user Thomas Hawk.

The Japanese practice of dolphin hunting is again under criticism, with an ex-hunter calling the practice inhumane. Photo by Flickr user Thomas Hawk.

The annual Japanese dolphin slaughter in Taiji Cove that has drawn international ire, has yet another detractor.

Izumi Ishii, an ex-dolphin hunter, has gone on record contradicting the Japanese government’s claims that the practice is a century-old tradition, but instead had originated as late as 1969.

Ishii told The Japan Times on Monday that mentors taught him and other fishermen in Futo, Japan, how to round up and kill massive amounts of dolphins in 1969 by herding them into the notorious Taiji Cove. He believes that was the first time the practice was conducted in Japan.

Ric O’Barry, a dolphin rights activist and former dolphin trainer of Flipper — the aquatic star of the 1963 feature film of the same name — joins Ishii in his criticism. O’Barry is a staunch defender of dolphins and has released scores of the captured creatures. He brought international attention to the slaughters in Taiji Cove when he starred in the 2009 Academy Award-winning documentary “The Cove,” a film that horrified viewers and rallied international pressure for Japan to stop the practice of dolphin hunting.

In Taiji, fishermen insert long metal poles into the water, banging the rods to create loud metallic noises that confuse the dolphin’s unique sense of sonar navigation. The dolphins are subsequently herded into the shallow cove where fishermen kill them by the hundreds, saving some to sell into captivity, while butchering the dead to sell their meat. Ishii said he found the dolphins to be incredibly docile and intelligent animals that refused to bite at the fishermen even as they were being slaughtered. He said the resulting moral conflict caused him to give up the practice, and hopes that by submitting a massive signature campaign to the Fishery Agency, he can persuade the Japanese government to end their practices.

In January, U.S. Ambassador to Japan Caroline Kennedy criticized the annual dolphin drive hunt in a tweet, saying she was “deeply concerned by the inhumaneness of the drive hunt dolphin killing.”

Despite international condemnation of the slaughters, Japan’s government has vehemently defended the practice, and has contradicted Ishii’s statements.

“Dolphin fishing is one of traditional fishing forms of our country and is carried out appropriately in accordance with the law,” said Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga. “Dolphin is not covered by the International Whaling Commission control and it’s controlled under responsibility of each country.”

Ishii’s criticism will likely serve to escalate foreign pressures to stop the slaughters. A petition on the website Take Part currently has over 600,000 signatures for Japanese government to end the Taiji drive hunts.