CLAIRE GUTE WRITES — Almost anyone who has seen the 2009 documentary The Cove has been struck by the graphic footage of dolphins being captured or killed in Taiji, Japan. Taiji is a small town on the east coast of the Kii Peninsula with a population of 3,500 people, as of 2011. Unfortunately, the number of dolphins being killed each year since has not decreased much. Throughout the 2020/21 season, that number of kills and captures is 1,749, divided among nine species of dolphins. According to 9 News, there have been nine “Red Cove days” -meaning, days when the ocean water turns “red with blood.”
The dolphins in Taiji, Japan are either killed and sold to the meat market or destined to lives of captivity in aquariums. Making matters worse, due to the Covid-19 pandemic the international volunteers have not been able monitor or partake in prevention efforts.
The main force behind dolphin activism in Taiji is Ric O’Barry’s Dolphin Project, which has identified Taiji as “ground zero for the captivity industry.” The Dolphin Project Instagram page posts regular updates showing weekly statistics of captured and slaughtered dolphins during the six-month long hunting season, approximately between September and late February. The problem is that the scope of the Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA) is limited to bodies of water controlled by the United States and does not extend to international waters. Dolphin activists are fully aware of this sad truth.
I cannot shake that haunting image of the bright red waters following a slaughtering of dolphins in The Cove. It drove me to learn more about the MMPA as part of my research into current environmental protection laws.
As a surfing and snorkeling enthusiast, I have been endlessly fascinated by aquatic life and its ecosystem. During visits to see my sister who lives in Oahu we have been lucky enough to see dolphins up close, in their own habitats—their bubbly personalities are unmatched. And because dolphins are considered one of the smartest animals to exist, it is especially difficult to see them continue to be slaughtered in large numbers.
The practice of killing dolphins in Taiji does not benefit the people or the dolphins of Japan. The meat is considered unsafe due to its extremely high mercury content, exceeding the “regulatory limit of mercury by 25 times.” So why doesn’t the Japanese government step in to reduce the quota of allowable dolphin captures and kills, or eliminate the practice entirely?