Japan defends dolphin kill as tradition; foreign envoys are critical

Japanese fishermen vet some of the 250 dolphins driven into Taiji cove for the annual capture and killing, a ritual condemned by Western conservationists but defended by Japanese as a cultural tradition. In this scene from Monday taken by a Sea Shepherd Conservation Society observer, fishermen are shown selecting dolphins for sale to marine parks and for slaughter and consumption.
(Sea Shepherd Conservation Society / European Pressphoto Agency)

Despite criticism from conservationists and some prominent global figures, Japan carried out its annual capture and killing of bottlenose dolphin Tuesday after trapping about 250 of the engaging mammals in a small and infamous south-central cove.

Critics of the dolphin hunt and drive this year included Japanese music legend Yoko Ono and the U.S. Ambassador to Japan Caroline Kennedy.

“Deeply concerned by inhumaneness of drive hunt dolphin killing,” Kennedy, the recently arrived U.S. envoy and daughter of John F. Kennedy, tweeted last week, adding that the U.S. government opposes such forms of fishery.

British Ambassador to Japan Tim Hitchens and Australia’s Environment Minister Greg Hunt also criticized the hunt.


Ono, the widow of Beatle John Lennon, posted a letter on her Imagine Peace website addressed to the fishermen of Taiji cove and appealing for them to consider the damage to Japan’s international stature inflicted by images of bloodied, suffering dolphins.

“The way you are insisting on a big celebration of killing so many dolphins and kidnapping some of them to sell to the zoos and restaurants at this very politically sensitive time, will make the children of the world hate the Japanese,” Ono said.

The Sea Shepherd Conservation Society for years has targeted the annual Japanese dolphin capture and kill for criticism of what it considers inhumane treatment of sentient beings.

“Five separate pods of bottlenose dolphins totaling more than 250 individuals including juveniles and babies were driven into Taiji’s infamous killing cove on Thursday, where they have endured four days of a bloody and traumatizing captive selection process,” Sea Shepherd said in a statement that accused the fishermen of depriving their captives of food while they awaited slaughter.

Fifty-two of the dolphins were selected for sale to marine parks and aquariums, while about 40 were taken onshore to a tent where they were slaughtered and prepared for delivery to butchers to be sold for human consumption, Sea Shepherd activist Melissa Sehgal said in a live-streamed report from Taiji.

Some of the dolphins were to have been freed after the vetting. But Sehgal said it was unclear how many of the captive pool were allowed to escape.

The annual dolphin drive-hunt in the small fishing village in south-central Wakayama prefecture came to public attention with the 2009 Oscar-nominated documentary “The Cove.” The film featured gory scenes of bloody water and the slow death of dolphins, igniting worldwide criticism of Japan, already in conservationists’ sights as one of the few nations still whale-hunting.

Japanese officials said the annual dolphin hunt was completed Tuesday and defended the practice as carried out legally and in deference to Japanese culture.


“Dolphin fishing is a form of traditional fishing in our country,” Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said during a news conference in Tokyo.

A statement issued by authorities in Wakayama prefecture dismissed the international criticism and the documentary as portraying the dolphin deaths “in a manner designed to excite outrage.”

“The Taiji dolphin fishery has been a target of repeated psychological harassment and interference by aggressive foreign animal protection organizations,” the local government statement said.

Twitter: @cjwilliamslat