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Humpback Whale
A number of small boats are used to corral dolphins into the small port of Futo in Japan. The net surrounds them and is gradually pulled tighter, trapping the animals in an increasingly smaller space.
Photo Elsa Nature Conservancy (1999)

February 14, 2005
Dolphin Drive Hunts in Japan
Real Audio Report
  28k


Log Transcript

This is Genevieve Johnson speaking to you from the Odyssey in the Canary Islands in the eastern Atlantic ocean.

In the Canary Islands, law protects cetaceans. However, in some countries, small cetaceans are not protected and are actively hunted.

The Odyssey crew recently met with colleagues from the Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA). EIA is an international campaigning organization committed to investigating and exposing environmental crime. EIA Director, Jennifer Lonsdale and Clare Perry, the Cetacean Campaign Manager, work to raise awareness about the devastating effect of drive hunts on small cetaceans around the world.

What is a dolphin drive hunt?

A number of boats corral pods of small whales and dolphins, sometimes in their hundreds, into a harbor or small port. Once in the port, a net surrounds the animals and is gradually pulled tighter, trapping them in an increasingly smaller space. When in shallow water, the animals are gaffed by a hook on the end of a long pole and systematically butchered with knives. Sometimes this is done in the water as the fisherman attempt to cut the carotid artery; others are dragged to a processing deck on land while still alive and cut up.

Humpback Whale
Once in shallow water, a hook on the end of a long pole is used to gaff and secure the animals.
Photo Elsa Nature Conservancy (1999)

Japan and the Faroe Islands (part of the Kingdom of Denmark) are the primary locations for dolphin drive hunts. The Faroe Islands kill pilot whales for human consumption in an annual hunt, while Japan conducts the largest dolphin hunt in the world in two main villages, Taiji in Wakayama and Futo in Shizuoka. After the cessation of commercial whaling in the mid-1980's, some Japanese whaling companies switched focus and became involved in dolphin hunts, often falsely selling dolphin meat as whale meat.

In Taiji, the dolphins are killed primarily for human consumption.

Dolphin meat sold to the Japanese people is highly contaminated with heavy metals, Polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) and Dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane (DDT). The government have warned pregnant women not to eat some dolphins, but not others, and polluted dolphin meat is found in supermarkets all over Japan.

The Elsa Nature Conservancy (ENC) of Japan acquired a slice of meat from a bottlenose dolphin that was killed in Futo on November 11, 2004. ENC immediately sent the sample to Hokkaido where Dr. Tetsuya Endo of the Faculty of Pharmaceutical Sciences, Health Science University of Hokkaido examined it for mercury contamination. The meat was highly polluted. It contained 19.2 ppm (parts per million) of mercury. This is 48 times higher than the maximum advisory level of 0.4 ppm, set by the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry of Japan.

Humpback Whale
While still alive, two dolphins are lifted to a processing deck.
Photo Elsa Nature Conservancy (1999)

The Taiji drive hunt is sanctioned by the Japanese Government and they set current kill quotas as follows - 450 striped dolphins, 400 pantropical spotted dolphins, 890 bottlenose dolphins, 300 Risso's dolphins, 300 short-finned pilot whales and 40 false killer whales. Futo has slightly smaller catch quotas of 70 striped dolphin, 455 spotted dolphin and 75 bottlenose dolphins.

After the introduction of motorboats in the 1920's, the increased efficiency of drive hunts coincided with a rapid decline in striped dolphins. At its peak in 1959, catches of striped dolphin in Futo exceeded 21,000 animals. However, catches declined to less than 10,000 in the early 1960's and to less than 1,000 in the early 1980's despite the use of the same number and faster search vessels.

In the 1970's, Taiji fisherman killed large numbers of striped dolphins, with an average annual catch of 11,000 in the 1980's. By 1990, catches dropped to less than 1,000 despite doubling the daily search effort. As striped dolphin populations decreased to a point where the hunt could not sustain itself, the target species changed to other, more abundant species.

In 1992, the Scientific Committee for the International Whaling Commission (IWC) reviewed the status of striped dolphins citing that a catastrophic decline in numbers was overwhelmingly evident. Even the fisherman involved in the hunts noted the decline in numbers. The Scientific Committee strongly advised a halt to the hunt. However, the Japanese Government chooses to ignore the evidence and the increased international criticism, and the hunt continues today.

Humpback Whale
This dolphin just had its carotid artery cut by a fisherman and is bleeding to death.
Photo Elsa Nature Conservancy (1999)

The real stock status of dolphin populations is unknown, as the small amount of research done by the Japanese Government is not published. It is likely that many stocks are severely depleted, which leaves them less able to cope with other threats such as viruses, or lower reproductive rates than the same species in other parts of the world.

Jenny Lonsdale and Clare Perry of EIA witnessed several hunts over the years and explained to the Odyssey crew that often the hunters trap many more dolphins than they are allowed to kill and release the remainder. The long-term effect of such stress on the animals after being penned for several days with other dolphins being slaughtered around them is unknown.

Unlike Taiji, the dolphin drive hunt in Futo in recent years is primarily to obtain live dolphins for the thriving aquarium trade. Bottlenose dolphins are the most popular aquarium animals, resulting in increased catches of this species in recent years. All attempts by aquariums to keep striped dolphins alive after transporting them from drive hunt locations failed. It is significant to note that Futo had not hunted dolphins for the previous five years and it is only due to increased demand from aquariums in Japan and Asia that the hunts resumed in 2004.

The runaway success of the Japanese whale watch industry seems to indicate a strong inclination by the Japanese people to view live marine mammals. The expanding aquarium industry is no doubt catering to the growing preference, particularly from the younger generation, to watch cetaceans rather than eat them. Unfortunately, few people are aware of the link between the drive hunts and some aquariums in Japan, an industry claiming it cares about education and the wellbeing of dolphins.

According to the Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society (WDCS), prices paid by aquariums for bottlenose dolphins are steadily increasing and can reach as much as US$30,000 per animal, which gives the hunters great incentive to continue.

In a hunt carried out in Futo during the 2004 season, six aquariums took fourteen dolphins from a drive hunt in which many other animals were slaughtered by fisherman, drowned in nets or died of shock. These Marine Parks and Aquariums include: Shin - Enoshima Suizokukan, Awashima Marine Park, Marine Road/Dolphin Fantasy, Hosaka Marine Project, Shimoda - Kaichu Suizokukan, Shinagawa Suizokukan

Humpback Whale
A dolphin is lifted in a sling in order to transport it to an aquarium. Many other dolphins from the same pod are killed in the same drive hunt.
Photo Elsa Nature Conservancy (1999)

At the hunt sights, fishermen, local police and the staff of the Japan Fisheries Agency - the National Research Institute of Far Seas Fisheries, guard the area using barriers and signs while the animals are cut up behind sheets and inside tents in an effort to stop tourists and environmental groups videotaping and photographing the event.

Thanks largely to dedicated organizations like EIA who released video footage of a dolphin drive hunt in Futo in 1999/2000 clearly showing the cruelty involved, the Japanese government is under fairly sustained global criticism. In addition, Japanese citizens previously unaware that the hunts even existed are beginning to take notice and voice their concerns.

As well as publicizing footage and publishing reports documenting the drive hunts and the false sale of dolphin meat as whale meat, EIA is targeting leading supermarket chains in Japan that sell dolphin meat. By explaining where the dolphin meat comes from, the high levels of persistent organic pollutants in the meat (a human health threat as well as a threat to the animals) and the unsustainable nature of the hunts, several large supermarket chains in Japan have stopped selling dolphin meat, thereby contributing to a reduction in demand.

By exposing the cruelty and conservation threats posed by these devastating hunts and the aquariums that help fund them, EIA with other NGOs, lead the way in their committed and relentless efforts to end drive hunts for small cetaceans.

Humpback Whale
The port of Futo runs red with the blood of the slaughtered dolphins.
Photo Elsa Nature Conservancy (1999)

Links:

Log written by Genevieve Johnson.
The crew of the Odyssey would like to thank EIA for their assistance in preparing this report.

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