On October 18, 1997 Japanese fishers from the Futo Fishery Cooperative
Association launched their annual "drive fishery" (iruka no oikomi
ryo) in the coastal waters off the Izu peninsula, 125 miles south of
Tokyo. In a typical drive fishery, fishers herd hundreds of whales and
dolphins into inlet shallows, where the animals are beached and butchered.
Videos of past drives have documented incredibly gruesome displays of carnage
that turn entire bays red with blood.
But this time, the killing did not go unnoticed. The Dolphin and Whale Action
Network (DWAN), a Tokyo-based group of marine activists, arrived on the scene
armed with video and still cameras. Perched on a hillside overlooking the bay,
DWAN filmed the slaughter and alerted both the Japanese news media and the
international cornmunity. When TV crews began arriving, local officials
attempted to close the only road leading to Futo Bay.
Japanese proponents of drive fishing portray the practice as a traditional
"rational utilization" of dolphins for food and contend that reducing the
number of marine mammals is necessary to alleviate increasing competition over
diminishing coastal fish stocks.
The Japanese Fisheries Ministry authorized the Futo Co-op to take 75 bottlenose
dolphins, 75 striped dolphins and 450 spotted dolphins, but the fishers
flagrantly violated these quotas. By October 21 - a mere three days into the
hunt - fishers had corralled approximately 2OO bottlenose dolphins, 50 pilot
whales and 50 false killer whales (pseudorcas) within the confines of Futo Bay.
Fishers placed the best "capture specimens"-- 75 bottlenose dolphins and over a
dozen pseudorcas -into a separate holding area where buyers from Japan's
rapidly growing aquarium/entertainment park industry could view them. After
selling several dolphins, the fishers slaughtered a half dozen adult dolphins
deemed "unsellable" since aquariums and marine parks prefer juvenile
The presence of the buyers signaled that motives unrelated to food and wildlife
management lie behind many drive fisheries. There is evidence that some drives
are financed partly by the captive marine mammal facilities that supply Asia,
as well as a larger global network, with a cheap source of inmates ("Whale
Laundering" Exposed, Fall '93 EIJ).
Trade in marine marrmals presents an irresistible economic opportunity to many
coastal fishers. At Futo, captive bottlenose dolphins sold for roughly $3,000
each, while false killer whales brought between $5,000 and $6,000. These same
animals, dead, are worth $300 apiece. For subsistence fishers, drives are
costly and time-consuming, but sales to aquatic parks can guarantee a drive's
By October 22, buyers had purchased 37 bottlenose dolphins and six pseudorcas.
Cranes lifted and loaded aquarium-bound dolphins into waiting lorries.The sales
over, fishers moved the 100 or so remaining animals to the slaughter area.
Fubo's slaughterhouse drainpipes began pouring a steady stream of blood, into
the bay, where panicked dolphins -- swimming in the blood of their own pods
called and whistled. DWAN penetrated the area and videotaped a large pilot
whale, flanked on both sides by long rows of dead whales and dolphins,
powerfully thrashing on the concrete slaughterhouse floor for several minutes.
As the struggling whale approached exhaustion, a fisher wielding a long filet
knife cautiously approached and decapitated the whale by repeatedly slicing its
DWAN's barrage of faxes and letters to the Ministry of Fisheries that
challenged the drive's legality (specifically the blatant quota excesses, the
unpermitted capture of whales and the unauthorized sale of marine mammals)
prompted an unprecedented government response. Ministry officials, confronted
with the brazen lawlessness of the fishery, ordered the fishers to release the
150 remaining animals. (In the following weeks, activists scored a second
victory when they freed six aquarium bought pseudorcas under cover of early
In the past, when Westerners condemned drive fisheries as barbaric, Japan's
fishers could dismiss such criticism as Japan-bashing, pointing out that
"killing dolphins and whales for food is no different than killing cattle." But
last October, it was Japanese activists who halted the Futo drive.
"The fact that Japanese authorities released dolphins due to local activist
pressures is a milestone," declared Michael Bailey, director of Greenpeace
Foundation Hawaii (not directly affiliated with Greenpeace USA), who helped
coordinate DWAN's efforts.
"Over 21 Japanese organizations signed letters of condemnation regarding the
drives' violations and halted a mercenary drive financed by the local aquarium
industy. If properly encouraged and supported, this newly forming movement
will have tremendous impacts upon the marine mammal conservation efforts within
Japan -- and internationally."
It would be wise for the world corrununity to seize this opportunity to support
Japan-based marine mammal conservation efforts. Given Japan's salient role in
commercial whaling and illegal international whale meat trafficking, and its
dismal record on marine mammal and fisheries presentation issues, there is no
place where progress is needed more.
What You Can Do: Write to the chief of lapan's Fisheries Ministry,
Mr. Miohio Shimada respectfully requesting that he stop issuing new permits for
drive fisheries. Ask that he prepare a report fully accounting for small
whales killed by Japan fishers for presentation at the International Whaling
Conference meeting in Monaco in May. Send the letters to: Michael Bailey, PO
Box 277-239, Kihei, Maui, HI 96753, MBaileyHi@aol.com. For more information
contact: Ms. Yukari Suruki, DWAN, 2-5-5-205, Hyakunin-cho, Shinjuku-ku, Tokyo