Taiji Drive Hunt - Dolphin And Whale Species Most Affected

Dolphins are indiscriminately hunted during the Taiji Drive Hunt, an annual event in Japan that is threatening the survival of these marine mammals in the region.

Taiji Dolphin Drive Hunt

The Taiji Dolphin Drive Hunt aims to hunt a large number of dolphins at once. It involves several boats working together to scare dolphins into an enclosed bay area or onto sandy beaches so that they are trapped. The driving force behind this is the demand for both dolphin meat and dolphins as entertainment on the local and international market. The Taiji dolphin drive hunt occurs in Taiji, Wakayama in Japan between September and March of every year. The technique that fishers use is to make noise under the water that disorients the dolphins; the dolphins swim into the Taiji Bay, and the hunters block off the exit. The dolphins remain in the bay overnight and are then killed the next day. The Japanese government defends these drives, claiming they are part of ancient tradition. Critics say the hunts began recently, in the late 1960’s.

Targeted Dolphin Species

During the drive hunts, both target and non-target species of cetaceans are subjected to death. These include bottlenose dolphins, striped dolphins, false killer whales, short-finned pilot whales, Risso’s dolphins, pantropical spotted dolphins and Pacific white-sided dolphins. The species which seem to have lost the highest numbers of dolphins over a 15-year span are the bottlenose, striped, and Risso’s dolphins. Due to the large area over which dolphins travel, hunt, and breed, population estimates are often difficult to determine accurately.

Bottlenose Dolphins

Bottlenose dolphins are currently not listed as threatened, and the population is estimated to be at a minimum of 600,000. This species, in particular, is highly prized by the entertainment industry, as well as for meat consumption. One bottlenose dolphin on the meat market is worth between $500 and $600, but on the aquarium market, that value can increase to $150,000. Between 2000 and 2014, the Taiji Drive Hunt has killed 4,575 Bottlenose dolphins. The number of deaths of this species seems to be decreasing over the years with 2000 ending in the greatest number. This decrease could be a result of a decline in population off the coast of Japan.

Striped Dolphins

Striped dolphins are also listed as of least concern. They mainly inhabit the Mediterranean Sea and the North Pacific although they have been found in other warm temperate and tropical waters. Global population estimates reach more than 650,000. Between 2000 and 2014, a little over 6,000 Striped dolphins have died in this hunt.

Risso’s Dolphins

Approximately 4,183 Risso’s dolphins have died in the Taiji hunt between 2000 and 2014. World population estimates cannot be calculated for this dolphin species although specific regions have reported numbers. The US Pacific coast reports around 16,000 sighted dolphins, and Sri Lanka reports between 5,500 and 13,000. The Atlantic coast of the US reports just over 20,000 and roughly 2,100 in the Gulf of Mexico. Off the coast of Japan, numbers indicate a population of 83,000 and an additional 175,000 in the eastern tropical Pacific.

Indirect Consequences

Sometimes, fishers decide to release the dolphins after trapping them in the bay overnight. These dolphins have already been traumatized by the confusion of the banging metal rods under the water and the cries of their pod mates. They go back into the deep waters, presumably to rejoin their pod which has now suffered great losses to its members. This includes females of reproductive years, females with babies, and older males that protect the pod. Many do not survive this treatment and those that do have a difficult time recuperating their pod population. Conservation groups have photographed dolphin carcasses that wash onto shore after these hunts and their releases.

Conservationist Opinions

Conservationists the world over are against the use of drive hunts to kill dolphins. They cite kill limits as unsustainable and believe the methods employed exemplify cruelty of the highest level. Conservationists have openly decried the practice as inhumane, stating that the lack of regard for dolphin population numbers will lead to their ultimate threatened status. Conservationists refer to the environmental destruction that will occur as a result of the mass removal of this keystone species and argue that international governments and organizations have long since banned commercial whaling. Their advice is that the same ban should exist for smaller sea mammals, including dolphins. The Japanese government and fishing industry strongly oppose this move.

Numbers Of Dolphins And Whales Killed During The Taiji Drive Hunt By Species: 2000 To 2014

RankYearBottlenose DolphinsStriped DolphinFalse Killer WhaleShort-finned Pilot WhaleRisso’s DolphinPan tropical Spotted DolphinPacific White-sided Dolphin
120001,271235Not Available109367270

More in Environment