Growing Concern over Japan’s Dolphin Hunt Leads to Widespread Outcry

ANIMAL RIGHTS - VEGETARIANISM, 3 Feb 2014

Andy Butter – YES! Magazine

The dolphin massacre depicted in the Oscar-winning film The Cove took place again this year. But the reaction to it shows a changing public mindset toward the rights of sea mammals.

Photo by Jeff Kraus / Flickr.

Photo by Jeff Kraus / Flickr.

In recent years, fishermen have gathered each year off the coast of Taiji, Japan, to corral dolphins into a small cove to be killed for their meat or sold to aquariums around the world. The group Whale and Dolphin Conservation estimates that more than 18,000 dolphins have been killed or captured in Taiji since the year 2000.

The hunt has taken place every year since 1969, but this year it met a different reception—one that suggests changing public attitudes toward the hunting and capture of dolphins. The U.S. ambassador to Japan, Caroline Kennedy, tweeted that she was “deeply concerned by inhumaneness of drive hunt dolphin killing,” and added that the United States government opposes such hunts. German and U.K. officials made similar statements, while the artist Yoko Ono published an open letter.

“At this very politically sensitive time,” Ono wrote, the hunt “will make the children of the world hate the Japanese.”

And the difference wasn’t just about the high-profile objections, says Naomi Rose, a marine mammal scientist with a Ph.D. in cetacean biology. This year’s dolphin hunt reached the attention of a larger and more global audience than earlier hunts have done due to increased discussion in social media.

Louie Psihoyos, executive director of the nonprofit Oceanic Preservation Society and director of The Cove—the Oscar-winning documentary film that made the Taiji hunts famous when it was released in 2009—adds that this increased media attention is helping change the discussion around the hunting of whales and dolphins.

“We’re getting toward a tipping point with this,” Psihoyos says. “You see hope everywhere.”

Psihoyos has faith in the ability of documentary films to effect social change. “I call them weapons of mass construction,” he says. “You make a good documentary and it keeps rippling around the world. Our movie is five years old now; it’s still doing its work.”

A second, more recent, documentary film has reinvigorated the movement against the captivity of whales and dolphins. Blackfish, released in 2013, follows the life of the orca Tilikum, a performing animal at a SeaWorld theme park that was involved in the death of trainer Dawn Brancheau. The film documents the negative effects of a long life of captivity or orcas and enjoyed exposure to a large audience over 17 airings on CNN’s broadcast network.

SeaWorld reacted defensively to the film. For example, a headline at the company’s new “Truth About Blackfish” website reads “Why ‘Blackfish’ is Propaganda, not a documentary.” SeaWorld goes on to say that the claims made in Blackfish are illegitimate because it relies on information from “animal rights activists masquerading as scientists” and “former SeaWorld employees, most of whom have little experience with killer whales.” SeaWorld has also published full-page ads in several national newspapers to refute claims made by the film.

Rose says that she sees SeaWorld’s reaction as a sign of hope.

“We’ve been bandying about in the advocacy circles this Gandhian idea: first they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win. SeaWorld is putting a lot of money into their PR,” Rose says. “So next is the win.”

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Andy Butter is an intern at YES!

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One Response to “Growing Concern over Japan’s Dolphin Hunt Leads to Widespread Outcry”

  1. satoshi says:

    In principle, it is pity to kill any living beings and, therefore, it should be avoided to kill any living beings.

    What are the reasons for fishermen in Taiji in Japan killing or selling dolphins? The article above does not clarify the reasons, because the article does not show the fishermen’s argument. (It is effective for this kind of article to show both pros and cons of arguments about the issue. Unfortunately, this article is not such kind of article.) If what I heard about it is correct, one of the main reasons is that dolphins damage or destroy the fishing net. It seems that the fishermen in Taiji protect their livelihood. If any living being (whatever animals, birds, insects or the like) threatens the livelihood of humans, do humans have the right to protect the means of their livelihood? In some countries, especially in mountain areas, bears come to the local village and they damage and/or destroy agricultural products, for instance. The local farmers shoot to kill bears in order to protect their livelihood.

    Now, here are some provocative questions below in order to activate, hopefully, constructive discussions:

    – First kind of questions: If these villagers in some mountain areas have the right to kill bears that damage or destroy the villagers’ livelihood, why do the fishermen in Taiji not have the same right to protect their livelihood? If the bears that damage or destroy the local farmers’ livelihood are allowed to be killed, what is the reason that dolphins that damage or destroy the local fishermen’s livelihood are not allowed to be killed or to be caught to be sold to aquariums?

    – Second kind of questions: If certain animals should not be killed even if they threaten humans’ livelihood, what are the criteria for that? In this context, for instance, dolphins should not be killed even if they threaten humans’ livelihood but bears are allowed to be killed if they threaten humans’ livelihood?

    – Third kind of questions: The third kind of questions here relate to the above mentioned second kind of questions. If humans are allowed to kill animals and any other living beings (such as birds and fish and more), what kind of animals and other kinds of living beings are allowed to be killed for our food? What kind of animals and other kinds of living beings are not allowed to be killed? For instance, if wheals and dolphins are not allowed to be killed for our food, but buffaloes, cows, horses, pigs, chickens, turkeys or the like are allowed to be killed for our food? What are the criteria for that? Who decided so? On what ground?

    – Fourth kind of questions: The fourth kind of questions here also relate to the second kind of questions above. That is to say, if the reason for killing certain kinds of living beings (crocodiles, cows, etc.) is for humans’ livelihood, including the production for fur coats, leather bags, leather belts, leather shoes, etc., which living beings are allowed to be killed? Which living beings are not allowed to be killed? Any criteria exist for that? If so, who decided so? On what ground? (For instance, if wheals and dolphins are not allowed to be killed for these purposes, if other non-human living beings are allowed to be killed for these same purposes, what are the criteria for that?)

    – Fifth kind of questions: Is hunting as a hobby allowed? Is hunting as a hobby allowed to kill bears, dears, tigers, lions, any other animals and birds, what are the reasons for not being allowed for humans to kill wheals, dolphins or the like? If fishermen in Taiji claim that they kill dolphins for their hobby, and if they ask those who enjoy hunting bears, dears and other animals for their hobby the reason why these animals are allowed to be killed for humans’ hobby, what those who enjoy hunting would answer to the question? Then, the same questions arise: Which animals and other living beings are allowed for humans to kill and which animals and other living beings are not allowed for humans to kill? Any criteria for that? On what ground were these criteria decided? Who decided so?

    We, humans, kill our fellow humans more than we kill any other non-human beings. Peace issues are closely related to the issues on the value of life, both life of humans and that of non-human beings. So, the sixth kind of questions are as follows:

    – Sixth kind of questions: If the leaders of a nation decide to go to war, it means that they authorize their people to kill the people of other nation. If we, humans, are not allowed to kill certain kinds of non-human beings (including wheals, dolphins, other kinds of animals, birds, fish, etc.), how is it possible or legitimate for certain humans (= the leaders of a nation) to authorize their people to kill the people of other nation? Humans should not kill dolphins even if dolphins damage or destroy humans’ livelihood, but the people of a nation are allowed to kill the people of other nation if the latter threaten the national interest of the former? It is very often that wars are engaged even if no people damage or destroy the national interest of other nation. So, let me repeat it because it is important: We, humans, are not allowed to kill certain non-human living beings but we are allowed to kill our fellow humans in other nation whenever our leaders authorize us to kill them. What logic justifies such killing?