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The Japanese Drive Fishery Dolphin Slaughter

The Japanese Drive Fishery, “Oikomi” occurs annually from September to April along the east coast of Japan, where over 20,000 dolphins and small whales (bottlenose, stripped, spotted and rissos dolphins, pilot whales, and melonhead whales) are slaughtered. Fishermen herd the dolphins into shallow bays with their boats by banging on metal rods to create a sonic barrier. The dolphins are trapped with nets, then the prime young dolphins are sold to aquariums and marine parks for as much as $50,000 apiece. The rest are slaughtered with spears and knives in a most horrific display of brutality. The sea turns blood red and the screams of the terrified dolphins, mothers and babies included, fill the air. The meat is sold in markets, ground into fertilizer, and has been found in dried dog food by DNA analysis (Frank Cipriano, San Francisco State University 2007). “The Japanese dolphin drive hunts are an abominable violation of any standard of animal welfare, and these hunts inflict measurable pain and suffering on animals that are intelligent, sentient, and socially complex,” said Dr. Diana Reiss, Senior Research Scientist and Director of the New York Aquarium’s Marine Mammal Research Program.

Taiji—Center of the Drive Fishery
The slaughter occurs in a cove near the old whaling town of Taiji, 300 miles southwest of Tokyo. The fishermen now hide the massacre behind blue tarps from the eyes of the world, but photographers have been able to document the brutality. The town of Taiji fully supports the drive fishery and is proposing to build a new $3 million slaughter house. In town, is also the Taiji Whale Museum, which houses a dolphin aquarium where you can view dolphins while you dine on dolphin meat. They also are the brokers for the sale of the drive fishery dolphins to marine parks around the world.

Mass Slaughter of Porpoise at Sea
The majority of the slaughter takes place at sea along the northern coast of Honshu in Iwate and Miyaji Prefectures, and off Hokaido, where over 17,000 Dall’s porpoise are harpooned yearly. The Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) did an undercover study in 1999, and reported: 1) that the meat is also contaminated with mercury and sold in markets, often mis-labeled "whale meat" to attract higher prices, 2) that due to declining populations, fishermen are targeting females with calves which swim slower and are easier to harpoon, and 3) that the fishermen are outfitting their boats with bigger engines to chase down the fast swimming porpoise.

Japanese Government Promotes the Killing
The Japanese government promotes the drive fishery by issuing permits and quotas - the Taiji total for 2007-08 was increased by 88 to 2,468, and the season allowed to open a month earlier on Sept 1, 2007. Local fishing cooperatives, the Fisheries Agency of Japan, and the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries of Japan all exert strong influence to keep the drive fishery going. Their position is that dolphins compete with local fishermen for limited supplies of fish and encourage the slaughter as a means of “pest control,” and that the killing and eating of dolphin is justified as a cultural tradition. Sakae Hemmi, of Elsa Nature Conservancy counters this argument by writing in Japan’s Dolphin Drive Fishery, “Whether something is traditional culture or not, if it entails ignoring human rights, or involves the desecration of animals’ lives through exploitation or causing suffering to living things, we should consider changing the way that traditional culture is passed down. Throughout the world and even in Japan, there are many places where the whaling tradition is passed on by museums, or by changing its form into educational activities like dolphin and whale watching and coexistence with wildlife.”

Media Black-out Of the Killing
There is a virtual media black-out in Japan of coverage of the drive fishery. The English language Japan Times is the only Newspaper with consistent coverage of the issue, and Japanese television rarely covers it.

News Reports
CNN did three news stories in Taiji in February 2008, with footage of the bloody slaughter and interviews with Taiji councilman Yamashita, and other government officials.


Eyewitness To Slaughter In Taiji Killing Coves, Japan Times 2/14/07

Bloodbath: Japan’s Dolphin Cull Gets Underway, The Independent 1/6/07

The Samurai Dolphin Man: A Campaigner Slams The World’s Greatest Slaughter Of Cetaceans, Japan Times 2/21/07

Time To Kill: Tokyo Sanctions An Extended Cull Of Taiji Dolphins, Japan Times, 9/19/07

Website devoted to Dall’s porpoise slaughter: dallsporpoise.org/

Campaigners Demand Government Unite Against Japan’s Massive Porpoise Hunt. Press Release: IWC 2006 St. Kitts: Environmental Investigation Agency.

Whale Dolphin Conservation Society Publication on Drive Fishery: Driven By Demand—Dolphin Drive Hunts in Japan and the Involvement of the Aquarium Industry [PDF]

Drive Fishery near Iki Island, Japan, 1980.
-Howard Hall

The fishermen have driven a large pod of bottlenose dolphins into the Taiji killing cove. They are cutting off the dolphins’ escape with two nets placed 50 feet apart.
-Helene O’Barry

The bloody cove after the massacre.
-Genna Naccache

Fast boat to chase down the porpoise
-EIA photo

Harpooner of Dall’s porpoise
-EIA photo

Dall’s porpoise to be sold in market
-EIA photo

-Hardy Jones/ELSA Nature Conservancy photo


Dolphin Spirit Project

A project of the International Marine Mammal Project of
Earth Island Institute
300 Broadway, Suite 28
San Francisco, CA 94133
phone: (415) 788-3666