Taiji, a small coastal Japanese town, has an annual tradition of painting the bay waters crimson red. Its people do not cultivate algae for this purpose, nor do they use special paint. Each year, the beginning of September marks the start of a major dolphin drive hunting season, when lots of mammals are getting trapped in the bay and slaughtered. Their blood is what turns the waters bright red.
The dolphin hunting season is a big deal for Japanese fishermen for whom it is often the only chance to make good money. For example, 1,623 dolphins were captured in 2007 and then either consumed or sold to dolphinariums across the world. Every lining dolphin costs up to $100,000, which makes it easy to understand why the Taiji community defends its annual tradition. The quota for captured dolphins in 2015 is 1,873 animals.
In 2009, a documentary, titled The Cove, portrayed this questionably ethical tradition of a Japanese coastal community. The film won an Oscar and drove some attention to the town of Taiji. Since the release of the film, many environmentalists and advocates of animal rights have been visiting Japan annually to participate in protests. As a response, Taiji officials use the local police to fence off the unwanted visitors. Ric O’Barry, a prominent activist was arrested this year, and a couple of others were denied entry.
Dolphin hunting that takes place in Taiji is causing mass protests from the animal rights activist groups. Their representatives believe that the hunt is an act of unseen cruelty toward animals. Dolphins are known to be intelligent animals, and the research showed they can feel human-like emotions. It is hard to imagine what must the species feel when witnessing mass murders of their own kind.
Japanese officials will do nothing at this point. They argue that the dolphin hunt, along with the annual hunt for whales, are compliant with the International Convention for the Regulation of Whaling. They also assure the international community that the species, both dolphins and whales, are not endangered. While the country’s officials say that this whaling program in the Southern Ocean is conducted with the scientific purpose, it is almost certain that killing tens and hundreds of animals is only a useful cover for commercial reasons. For example, just over the next two months (through October 2015), Japanese fisheries are planning to hunt down 51 minke whales.
This number of whales is too low as compared to the number of dolphins captured and slaughtered during the same amount of time. However, it is a part of a much bigger problem, which is when people’s behavior is dictated by economy and the promise of fast earnings, but not the long-term perspective of balanced coexistence of species.
Apart from the animal rights issues, the Taiji dolphin hunt raises concerns due to high levels of mercury in the dolphin meat. This meat is being sold across Japan and imported to other countries as well. If such arguments as animal abuse and inhumane practices are not valid enough for Japanese fisheries and the Taiji community, it might be that the possible threats to human health would be able to change the situation.