February 4, 2014
Slaughter Of The Toxic Dolphins
The annual slaughter and capture of dolphins that was featured in the 2009 Oscar winning documentary The Cove has begun again, in spite of worldwide condemnation. Locals in the fishing town of Taiji on the Pacific coast of Japan are ignoring pleas to stop the killing. The dolphins are first rounded up in large pods and hundreds are then corralled in the local cove that gave the documentary its name. Once the dolphins are gathered, the fishermen bang poles together so that the animals’ highly sensitive sonars are confused by the underwater vibrations. They are then killed by having a metal pole driven through the blowholes and into their spines, leading to a slow painful death, though this process is usually hidden from view under tarpaulins.
This year, as in other years, as well as taking dolphins for food, the captors take live dolphins (adults and young, including an extremely rare albino calf) for sale to aquariums and water parks around the world. This is big business and it is expected that these animals will bring in millions of dollars.
The marine conservation organization Sea Shepherd monitors the activity in Taiji each year and endeavors to provide a live feed of the situation whenever possible in a campaign it calls Operation Infinite Patience. Archived footage of the Taiji operation can be seen here. According to Sea Shepherd’s calculations, around 20,000 dolphins are killed in Japanese waters annually with approximately 2,000 of those being taken in Taiji. Although dolphin meat is not a particularly popular dish in most of Japan it is still highly valued in whaling and fishing communities like Taiji. The locals also justify the taking of the dolphins by blaming them for depleting fish stocks.
It is estimated that a single dolphin can bring in as much as $200,000, bringing into doubt the fishermen’s claim that they are poor and need the meat for their families to survive. What is not in doubt is that dolphin meat is highly toxic. Dolphins sit at the top of the food chain and therefore accumulate large amounts of toxins, particularly mercury. As Louis Psihoyos, director of The Cove, puts it, “If you’re eating dolphin meat you’re eating poison.” Indeed, in 2010 the Japanese government conducted a survey of Taiji’s population taking hair samples from 1,137 of the town’s 3,500 inhabitants and found dangerously high concentrations of mercury. The presence of such large amounts of toxins was attributed to the high consumption of whale and dolphin meat. Although there appeared to be no ill effects at the time ,the fear is that they could develop Minamata disease, a potentially fatal mercury related illness that causes spasms, sensory loss and malformed babies.
Widespread concern over the taking of Taiji’s dolphins prompted a rare intervention from the US government when Caroline Kennedy, the US ambassador to Tokyo tweeted “Deeply concerned by inhumaneness of drive hunt dolphin killing” and said that the US government opposed the practice. Yoko Ono has written an open letter to the Taiji fishermen imploring them to consider worldwide public opinion. Nevertheless the killing continues. Arguments will rage forever about the rights of people to catch and eat marine and other animals, but in the case of Taiji, at least, many of those watching the operation object not just to the killing and capture of cetaceans, but to the manner of the killing and the perceived cruelty involved.
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