A shocking new investigation has revealed that 269 dolphins across nine different species are currently being held captive in Taiji, Japan, making it one of the largest captive dolphin collections in the world.
The dolphins were imprisoned during Taiji’s controversial dolphin hunt, an event responsible for the capture of hundreds of the marine animals every year. Some are sold to aquariums, marine parks, and dolphinariums, while others are slaughtered for their meat.
Live dolphins sold to theme parks bring in a much higher profit than those killed for meat. Taiji’s fishermen are reportedly able to sell a live animal for about $8,000, and a fully trained dolphin is worth more than $40,000 if sold abroad. Meat only brings in $500.
The Dolphin Project in collaboration with the Life Investigation Agency (LIA) conducted a 6-month long investigation during the hunting season to count and record the number and species of dolphins being confined in Moriura Bay.
“When the dolphins and whales are driven into the cove from offshore, it is like your blood boils and starts to flow backwards,” Ren Yabuki, campaign director of LIA who has been recording these hunts alongside his team of over 46 all-Japanese activists for the past six years, told National Geographic. “Dolphins and whales, who have done nothing wrong, are suddenly and forcibly captured. Their families are torn apart. They are captured for the aquarium trade in front of [their] family and pod members or killed right in front of their families and siblings.”
Credit: LIA/Dolphin Project
Among the dolphin species are bottlenose dolphins, melon-headed whales, spotted dolphins, and Pacific white-sided dolphins, all captured from the ocean between November 2021 and March 2022. At least 25 dolphins are missing, according to LIA’s documentation - it’s likely that they have already died or were able to escape when a tsunami hit the country in January.
The Taiji hunts were propelled into the public sphere after the release of the 2009 Oscar-winning documentary The Cove, whose graphic footage of dolphins being stabbed to death horrified audiences across the world. Typically, hunters ambush schools of dolphins and pods of whales and chase the animals into shallow waters. Once they’re trapped inside the “killing cove”, hunters stab the animals to death with spears or knives. According to activists, the surrounding sea turns crimson for six months of the year as dolphins and whales are hunted to their deaths or captured for theme parks.
A growing number of Japanese nationals have also been protesting against the hunt, but despite the opposition, Taiji’s hunters insist they will not end the slaughter, claiming it is a crucial source of meat for the Japanese people. In reality, dolphin meat is not widely eaten in Japan, nor is it considered a main food staple. The marine mammals are also hunted as a form of “pest control” as they’re seen as competition for fish, with Japan blaming dolphins for their own actions in overfishing the oceans, according to the Dolphin Project.
The main way to stop this cruelty is to refuse to pay to see animals at entertainment venues. “The captivity industry drives the dolphin slaughter, thus, the best way to end the slaughter is to not buy a ticket to a dolphin show,” says Ric O’Barry, founder of the Dolphin Project.
A cutting-edge technology company, Edge Innovations, is also working to help end animal captivity in marine parks by offering an ethical alternative: a robotic dolphin. The creation mimics the look and movements of its real-life counterparts and has the exciting potential to usher in a sustainable new era for animal tourism.
Edge Innovations say that the robots “can work all day long, don't need food and don't mind taking endless selfies with visitors. They can run for 10 hours without charging, with a 10-year lifespan living in saltwater together with live fish!”
Credit: Edge Innovations
What we eat matters: as well as refusing to see animals as entertainment objects, our food choices also have an impact on everything that’s happening to the ocean and those that call it home. With around 2.7 billion wild fish killed every single day, it’s no wonder this is having far-reaching repercussions for our wildlife and oceans. By choosing plant-based seafood alternatives, you’ll be playing an important role in helping to save fish, wildlife, and the oceans. Check out some of our favorite vegan seafood brands here for everything from crab cakes to shrimp.
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