The Higashimuro District in Japan is mostly known for its picturesque ocean views, hot springs, and waterfalls — but it's also known for something much, much darker.
The small village of Taiji in particular is home to an annual dolphin slaughter from Sept. 1 to March 1. Marine mammals are herded ashore, where they're captured for aquariums or slaughtered for meat. Now, organizations like Ric O' Barry's Dolphin Project are doing what they can to expose the tradition for what it is: cruel.
"Just one day after chasing a large pod of Melon-headed Whales killing 32 and taking one into captivity, the Taiji dolphin hunters have killed an entire pod of 12 Risso's Dolphins. Even though the Risso's Dolphin can dive to 1,000 feet and holds its breath for over 30 minutes the Taiji hunters have developed techniques to confuse and panic dolphins causing them to stay on the surface to breath faster," reads an update from the organization from January 2023.
"This year the Risso's has been a constant target of these hunters making this the 11th time they slaughtered Risso's this season," the update continues. "[About] 108 Risso's have been slaughtered so far this season."
Taiji's annual dolphin slaughter is an abusive tradition.
By taking advantage of their acute sense of hearing, hunters herd dolphins and whales ashore in Taiji's annual slaughter using what's called a "curtain of noise," according to Newsweek. Once the mammals are effectively cornered, they're captured in nets and forced into captivity — or they're sent to the meat market.
"The drive hunts in Japan are fundamentally cruel," Danny Groves, head of communications at nonprofit Whale and Dolphin Conservation (WDC), stated via Newsweek.
"Once a pod is spotted," he continued, "fishermen bang on metal poles, creating an underwater curtain of noise, which confuses and disorientates the dolphins... They are then herded or driven together to shore. Some of them, usually juveniles and calves, may be allowed to return to the ocean, alone, frightened and stressed. Most are not so lucky and are slaughtered for meat, which few people eat."
Last year more than 500 whales and dolphins were killed in Taiji, so the damage is significant.
Despite pushback, the hunt is permitted by Japan's Fisheries Agency. The agency has set a quota for this season's hunt at 1,849. That said, it's shocking that the tradition continues.
"This practice remains all the more baffling when we are fighting against climate breakdown," Groves added. "A healthy planet needs a healthy ocean, and whales and dolphins help maintain a healthy ocean. Slaughtering them in such a brutal way and removing them from the ocean to put them in tanks makes no sense."
This story might sound familiar if you saw 'The Cove' (2009).
This story might sound familiar, simply because society is constantly running our planet's natural beauty into the ground. However, it might really ring a bell if you saw the 2009 documentary, The Cove.
The documentary's storyline, according to IMDB, follows a group of animal welfare activists led by dolphin trainer Ric O'Barry (yes, of The Dolphin Project!), as they look to expose the abuse and negative effects behind the annual Taiji slaughter.
It certainly brought an important issue to light, but unfortunately, as previously mentioned, that film debuted more than 10 years ago — and this travesty is still ongoing every year. That said, we hope ongoing efforts to stop the annual slaughter will eventually bring the gut-wrenching tradition to an end. You can help The Dolphin Project by signing petitions, donating, spreading awareness on the issue, and contacting authorities — every action helps.