Annual Japanese Dolphin Hunt Begins

Posted on September 22nd 2021

The controversial Japanese dolphin hunt, linked to the town of Taiji, is currently underway. The hunting season lasts until March.

The hunt is run by the Isana Fishermen’s Association. The government is permitting the Association to catch up to 1,849 dolphins from nine different species, including bottlenose, Risso and striped dolphins, and melon-headed whales.

Dolphin Slaughter

Some of the dolphins are sold to marine parks, but hundreds are slaughtered according to the California based Dolphin Project. However, the hunt does not always catch its permitted quota. In recent years they have caught several hundred fewer.

The hunt involves the upsetting practice of forcing the captured dolphins and whales in to a cove. There they are either segregated from members of their pod to be killed or moved to aquariums. Dolphin and whale intelligence is well documented so it is hard to believe this isn’t extremely stressful for the animals.

Japanese Tradition

The local Taiji government has defended the hunt based on it being a 400 year tradition. It came in to well publicised criticism due to it being the subject of the 2009 documentary film The Cove. Critics have issue with the fact that the methods used and the hunts aims are beyond what was originally a hunt for food.

The issue with the methods is mainly to do with the slaughter. Spearing the dolphins might not kill them instantly and therefore causes further distress. In addition there are some reports to suggest that calves are released back in to the wild having watched their mothers being slaughtered, with little hope of surviving in the wild.

Japan’s Aquariums Big Business

Japan has roughly 70 aquariums with dolphins in them. That is more than any other country. The price of dolphins sold in to the trade is high. They can fetch upward of US $8,000. The price for dolphins sold for meat is much less, roughly $500. In 2015, the Japanese Association of Zoos and Aquariums (JAZA) banned its members from buying dolphins from the Taiji hunt, following protests and pressure from the World Association of Zoos and Aquariums. However, some Japanese dolphinariums withdrew from JAZA so they could continue to buy from Taiji.

There are plans in place for Taiji to create a giant dolphin pool at their Moriura Bay Whale Museum. They already hold in excess of 100 dolphins and whales at the museum. Whale and dolphin tourism is big business in Taiji, so even if the hunts are stopped, Taiji will still be central to dolphins held in captivity. It is assumed that they will increase breeding captive dolphins if not allowed to capture them.


The hunts always attract protesters. International protest is fierce, but national protest from within Japan is a little more muted for cultural and legal reasons. However, domestic protest is on the rise. Japanese protesters are trying to open the eyes of the Japanese people as to why these hunts are cruel and should not be continued to uphold tradition, or to support their outdated aquarium businesses.

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