Activists Battle Whale and Dolphin Slaughter in Japan

In a dramatic clash between cultures and global sensitivities, animal activists filmed the annual roundup and slaughter of hundreds of dolphins and whales by Japanese fishermen in Taiji, Japan. The fishermen argue that they are simply culling marine predators that compete with them for fish, and picking up a little cash from selling meat to the fish market and live "specimens" to public display facilities. To those standing vigil and millions worldwide, the ongoing massacre is an absolute horror-the biggest single intentional destruction of whales and dolphins in the world.

The killing started on October 6, when 60 dolphins were herded or driven into a bay by fishermen surrounding their pod and banging on pipes in the water (known as "drive fishery"). Sea Shepherd volunteers filmed the subsequent bloodbath from their perch on an adjacent hill before the fishermen noticed them and threatened to kill them and destroy their footage. They responded by calling the police for protection. When the police arrived, it was the volunteers who were briefly taken into custody, but not before they were able to hide the gruesome videotape later released around the world.

The drive fishery slaughter in Japan has been going on for decades out of several ports, including Taiji, Iki Island and Futo. It received a boost in the early seventies when Sea World was kicked out of Washington state for killing four orcas during a capture. Needing a new source for entertainers, public display facilities worldwide made a deal with the fishermen to buy the prettiest individuals from the pods before they are lanced to death. Buyers have been found in the burgeoning market in aquariums and swim-with programs in Asia.

Even though many Taiji villagers decry the interference in their "cultural tradition," the numbers of cetaceans involved is staggering: the annual Japanese quota is 22,000 a year. Taiji's share is 2,900 dolphins. According to our colleagues with the (Japanese) Dolphin and Whale Action Network (IKAN) the number of dolphins captured or killed from 1963 to 1999 is at least 668,393 individuals. Some are sold as food despite sky-high levels of mercury, heavy metals, DDT, and PCB's in the meat. Most tested dolphin meat (much of which is fraudulently marketed as whale meat) has a toxic load of 10 to 500 times the recommended maximum intake level for human consumption.

The drama in Taiji escalated on November 18 when Sea Shepherd crewmembers Allison Lance Watson and Alex Cornelissen were arrested after releasing 15 dolphins before they could be slaughtered. They were indicted on December 9 for "forceful interference with Japanese commerce," fined and released.

AWI helped organize an international day of outrage at 22 Japanese consulates and embassies worldwide on November 4 and Dec 10. We join millions worldwide in demanding the immediate cessation of this brutal and unnecessary atrocity.

One courageous Japanese fisherman named Izumi Ishii from Futo quit slaughtering dolphins and has opened up a successful business taking people out to see dolphins and whales (see Spring 2003 AWI Quarterly). He is showing other fishermen how to make a good living without damaging the creatures involved. He can be reached through www.bluevoice.org.

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