A Report on the 1996 Dolphin-Catch-Quota Violation at Futo Fishing Harbor, October 17, 1996 Futo, Japan [This report was written by Sake Hemmi and issued by the Elsa Nature Conservancy and Institute for Environmental Science and Culture.]


During October 1996 fisherman and others chased into Futo Fishing Port, on Shizuoka Prefecture's Izu Peninsula, over 200 bottle-nosed dolphins, a number over three times the allotted quota, and about 50 false killer whales, for which there was no quota at all, and began selling them to aquariums, in addition to slaughtering and butchering for sale as meat. Protests by citizens' organizations led to the release of captured dolphins in the port that exceeded the quota, as well as the return to the ocean of six false killer whales that had already been taken to aquariums.

Dolphin drive begins by locating a school of dolphins out at sea. Once a school is located, fishing boats emit loud noises into the water, which confuses the echolocation ability of the dolphins and throws them into a panic. Boats and nets are used to cut the dolphins off from their escape route, and to herd them slowly toward the narrow recess of a fishing port. The port's entrance is walled off with a net, thereby impounding the dolphins inside.

The dolphin capture at Futo used this method, which has been practices along the Izu Peninsula for centuries. It is now used only at Futo, however, owing to too few people to continue it, and because the operation is unprofitable.

Once impounded within a port, the dolphins are again confused with loud sounds, and moved with boats and nets in groups of 30-odd animals to a pier near shore that is suitable for landing them, while gradually making the enclosure smaller. After the dolphins have nowhere to flee, their captors punch sharp fireman's hooks into the animals' bodies to draw them near the boats, and then tie ropes to their tails. A crane lifts the dolphins out of the water tail-first to land them, loading them several to a vehicle in trucks waiting at the pier. Trucks take the dolphins to a nearby slaughterhouse to be killed and butchered.

As the dolphins are living as they are landed and taken to the slaughterhouse, butchering there also proceeds while they are still alive, and begins by slitting their throats with a kitchen knife, or a blade on a long handle that looks like a halberd, after which the dolphins writhe violently in a pool of their own blood and die while making wailing noises. Although some dolphins die instantly, a Taiji fisherman said, "When their bellies are cut open, some dolphins let out a human like scream, and researchers are not allowed to record those screams" (statement from a February 1997 interview).

In Japan this drive fishery is now conducted mainly off the Izu Peninsula, and off the Kii Peninsula of Wakayama Prefecture. In the past many blue white dolphins were captured, with the drive fishery catch in 1975 said to have been 20,000, but now the fisherman take many bottle-nosed dolphins.

Transporting Dolphins to Aquariums
When the captured dolphins are to be processed into meat, they are apparently killed and butchered immediately, but on this occasion the herd of dolphins driven into the port on October 17 was kept as is until the 21st because some would be taken to aquariums. The dolphins were not fed during this period, apparently because aquariums requested withholding food to make them easier to handle. On this occasion the dolphins were taken to aquariums using the following procedure.

Encircling Dolphins
To begin with, two fishing boats confused the dolphins with sounds, then rounded up the dolphins, which were scattered throughout the port. These two vessels had metal bars protruding from their hulls into the water, and fishermen banged on them constantly with hammers as other fisherman beat on the sides of their vessels with wooden mallets, and still other slapped the water over and over with long poles, thereby terrorizing the dolphins and chasing them around. Then, just as when landing dolphins for slaughterm three fishing boats spread fishing nets from one vessel to the next to cut off the dolphins' escape route and inexorably herd them toward the wall at pierside.

The 30-odd dolphins separated out in this manner are then sorted according to what the aquariums want. A person from an aquarium, who appears to be a leader, stands at the top of the wall pointing at dolphins saying, "This one," and "That one," as about 10 aquarium divers subdue the indicated dolphins and measure their length with a long bar. It appears they are after animals about 150-200 cm long, and do not want any over 250 cm. One or two of the divers restraining the dolphin then dive under the animals and inspect the underbelly slit to see if it is a male or a female. Almost all aquariums prefer females, and, as far as records indicate, only one male has ever been taken to an aquarium. Even if all other requirements were fulfilled, no dolphins with injuries were chosen. In addition to being panicked by the loud noises and chased by divers, the dolphins get caught in nets, run into the wall, and collide violently with other dolphins, so many of them injuries. For this reason it took considerable time to select dolphins that satisfied the aquariums.

Divers hold the chosen dolphins at their sides and lift them onto a special dolphin stretcher, which has holes for dolphins' pectoral fins, that is lowered to water level by a crane. Once a dolphin is properly ensconced, the crane lifts it onto a truck that the aquariums have waiting on the pier. Aquarium personnel immediately remove the stretcher, and move on to the next operation.

When dolphins are taken to nearby aquariums, their transport involves placing them on wet mattresses, covering the upper parts of their bodies with cloth, and occasionally wetting them, but when destinations are far, dolphins are put in long tanks to keep their bodies immersed. In all cases sedatives are administered to keep the dolphins from struggling. On this occasion the sedative caused the shock death of one female; her belly was subsequently cut open, and the meat extracted and processed.

Educational Significance of Watching the Dolphin Capture
While dolphins were being taken out of Futo Port to aquariums, and while they were being landed for slaughter and butchering, over 100 children from the local Kawana Elementary School, Futo Elementary School, Futo Nursery School, and other institutions came to watch over the course of two days. Elementary school pupils took off from class as part of their social studies. The children watched from a slight distance so as not to get in the way, but as they watched their teachers offered no explanation or other guidance to the children. In particular, there were no teachers in the immediate presence of school children watching from the opposite bank. The children were simply watching excitedly and making noise as the enclosed dolphins were cornered by divers and fled about trying to escape their inevitable capture. Children were walking around saying things like, "They got one!" "It's a chase!" "I want to do it!" and "Let's eat them in our school lunches."

Some children just sat and watched quietly. I asked some of these fourth graders from Kawana Elementary School what they thought of the dolphin capture. While almost all the children looked down in silence or fled to avoid answering my questions, two children said, "The poor dolphins," and "I feel very sorry for them."

Some of the children's fathers were probably fishermen. Because the drive fishery would be their fathers' job, they were watching their own fathers at work. I felt doublts about whether such education could substitute for classes, as there was no explanation at all about eigher dolphins or their capture for consumption. My impression was that people came to see the dolphin capture in a picnic mood just because a lot more dolphins than usual would be taken. After returning to their classrooms, did pupils and teachers have an opportunity to talk about things like what kind of animals dolphins are, how are dolphins captured, why are they taken, and what did the children think and feel as they watched?

Still I think it is natural for people to feel sorry for dolphins when seeing them surrounded by nets and cut off from escape, making wailing noises audible to humans, sustaining injuries, and succumbing to panic and drowning, as well as when seeing the sea turn gradually red with blood. It is vitally important for people to learn how to be moved by something beautiful, or feel sosrry for something pitiable. Such feelings are the basis for thinking about the preciousness of life, and about how we should live, as we humans cannot exist without sacrificing the lives of other living things. Fourth-graders are quite capable of thinking about what it means to be a wild animal or to be human. The local teachers should at least educate their pupils so that the suffering and death of the dolphins is not wasted.

If pupils are merely shown the dolphin capture, it could adversely influence them instead of being educational. Proper education about the nature of life is necessary for children who frolic while watching dolphins being killed one after another in appalling circumstances, and without feeling a thing. Unless such education is provided, watching dolphins being taken could give them the idea that it's all right for humans to do anything to animals, and if an animal is to be eaten, cruel treatment doesn't matter. Setting aside the question of whether dolphins are captured or not, children should be raised and educated to seriously consider the present practice of dolphin captures and to think about it intellectually and emotionally.

Collaboration among Aquariums
Close Collaboration among Aquariums for Cetacean Capture: A Characteristic of this Capture

Ten aquariums in Shizuoka Prefecture and nearby prefectures were involved in this capture, but only six of those facilities actually received dolphins; four of the 10 went to Futo for the sole purpose of helping, a fact that illustrates well the solidarity among aquariums in capturing cetaceans. In this operation six aquariums took a total of 26 bottle-nosed dolphins, while two facilities obtained a total of six false killer whales. Shimoda Kaichu Aquarium and Izu Mito Sea Paradise obtained both species.

The order in which aquariums chose dolphins on this occasion was apparently decided by drawing lots, while the selecting and moving of dolphins wee done individually for each aquarium. In other words, once the procedure was finished for one aquarium, the dolphins that remained in the enclosure of fishing boats and nets were released into the harbor, after which 30-odd dolphins were again rounded up from among the whole group using loud noises, boats, and nets, which was repeated for each facility.

As mentioned before, the surrounded dolphins were of course in a state of panic, and gradually sustain more injuries in their quest for an escape route because they crash themselves into boat hulls and the wall, become entangled in nets, and scrape their underbellies on the rocky bottom in shallows. Dolphins also collide forcefully with one another as they flee about. The water therefore gradually becomes red with the blood of dolphins.

Because many aquariums were involved, and because they all wanted uninjured females from 1.5 to 2 meters in length, those appearing to be the best were chased around the harbor many times. Owing to this repeated chasing and surrounding with nets, as well as the panic it caused, many dolphins were exhausted and sank to the harbor bottom.

this method of obtaining dolphins shows clearly that the dolphins taken to aquariums first experienced several days of starvation and fear in the port, were terrorized nearly to death by the capture and sorting procedure, suffered panic, and were in the end separated from their parents and group. According to information obtained as of November 23, 1996, three of the 26 dolphins taken to the aquariums had already died, and a number of them were in weakened condition. Newer information might reveal further mortality and/or ill health.

Aim of Protest Against Quota-Violating Capture and What It Accomplished
A Historical Incident: First of Its Kind in Japan

On October 23, 1996 the Futo Fishing Cooperative removed the net blocking the harbor entrance and released more than 100 dolphins still confined, which were over the catch quota. Further, on October 30 the two aquariums that had bought the false killer whales returned their total of six to the ocean at Futo, although there were considerable problems with the way it was done. Nevertheless, no matter what the course of events leading to the return, and the way it was done, the release of the captured dolphins by fishermen who themselves removed the nets, and the return of false killer whales that had once been taken to aquariums, are the first such occurrences in Japan. *

What is more, the protest movement against the dolphin capture was the first of its kind in Japan. Until this incident, distinct protest actions against dolphin drive fisheries in Japan were those of foreign activists who would, for example, cut fishing port nets to release dolphins into the sea. In this case, however, it was Japanese citizens' groups, divers, and ordinary people who took the lead in conducting protest activities. As a consequence, the very fishing industry people who had captured the dolphins released them, and the aquarium people themselves returned the false killer whales to the sea. This is a very significant aspect of this incident.

*A similar incident occurred at Odawara City, Kanagawa Prefecture, on April 7, 1985. Released on this occasion was a Risso's dolphin that had become entangled in a net offshore of Nanazuru near Yokohama, and its liberators were fish brokers. Just before it was to be auctioned off at the Odawara fish market, a Mr. Takaaki Furukawa came up with an idea which led to donations collected from among brokers, and then to the dolphin's release. Apparently it was purchased at a very cheap price through the kindness of the shipper (company president Takase), who had apparently saved dolphins and whales twice before.

International Protest Actions Led by Japanese Citizens
The news of the dolphin drive fishery at Futo made its way around the world in a few days. As a result the Elsa Nature Conservancy, which conducts a broad movement for protecting the environment and animals, received many inquiries and offers of help from abroad. Considering the worldwide spread of the idea that we should transcend national borders in protecting marine mammals as a world asset because they live the world's interconnected oceans, there is nothing at all strange about the protest and help offers from abroad in response to a quota violating incident at a fishing port in Japan.

In this instance, however, the policy adopted by the groups forming the nucleus of the protest, including Elsa, was that Japanese organizations would take the lead in these protest activities. This was because they wanted everyone in Japan to see this as a Japanese issue that was close to Japanese people. At the same time, there was concern that if the protesters immediately sought support from abroad, opponents would claim it was an instance of Japan-bashing.

For this reason the Japanese activist community adopted a policy under which, while expressing gratitude for offers of help from abroad, it asked foreign groups to hold protest telephone calls and faxes until the domestic protest movement had started running smoothly. While taking part in the protest movement in Japan, Elsa sent letters to supporting organizations abroad to explain this policy and ask for their understanding. When the protest in Japan actually got under way, it was possible to ask for support and gain strong cooperation from abroad.

A Single Objective
As noted above, the single objective of this protest was to rectify a violation. This was because the activist community feared it would delay the release of the dolphins--the protest's urgent objective--if the capture were to be turned into arguments about dolphin culinary culture or the right or wrong of dolphin capture, which are often the subject of debate. This led not only to achieving this urgent objective, but also made many people sense doubts about the very capture of dolphins and the way aquariums are presently run, as well as the consumption of whale meat, which is generally written off as a matter of culinary culture. Thus, the dolphin drive fishery at Futo Port served to pose a number of problems, and at the same time change the perceptions of many people. These days, as ideas like "keeping wild animals wild" and "protecting cetaceans as world assets" continue to gain currency around the world, one accomplishment of the protest was that this incident triggered a reassessment of the relationship between humans and cetaceans, including dolphins, orcas, and whales, and brought about efforts to look for ways to coexist.

The Reality
The Reality of Aquariums, and the Connection with Drive Fishery Capture

This incident illustrated the relationship between aquariums and drive fisheries. While aquariums claim to be educational facilities, they capture dolphins and whales in ways that totally run counter to those animals' ecology, thereby helping to destroy their herds and attesting criticism from many people. It showed that although aquariums sing the praises of dolphin protection, in order to select and obtain dolphins that satisfy their shopping lists, they chase them around ruthlessly, thereby sacrificing the lives of many other dolphins and increasing the dolphins' suffering.

We also discovered that several of the dolphins obtained in this drive fishery were to be sent to China. Under the cover of claims about education and protection, the aquariums are actually engaged in the commercial activity of capturing and selling wild animals. The true protection of wild animals requires that as many people as possible be informed of what aquariums are really up to.

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