The Taiji Dolphin Drive Hunt

By Amber Pariona on January 26 2020 in Environment

Fishermen kill whole dolphin pods (families) using spikes which sever the spinal cord.
Fishermen kill whole dolphin pods (families) using spikes which sever the spinal cord.

Taiji Dolphin Drive Hunt

The Taiji Dolphin Drive Hunt is an event organized to hunt the largest number of dolphins possible at one time. Dolphin drives involve several boats working together to herd groups of dolphins into a bay area where they cannot escape or onto beaches where they cannot swim away. The purpose for this is to sell the dolphins for the meat market although some end up in large aquariums. The Taiji dolphin drive hunt occurs in Taiji, Wakayama in Japan between September and March. In this particular drive, fishers bang on metal rods under the water to disorient the dolphins; once they are driven into the bay, the entrance is closed off by nets to trap them. They are left to calm down overnight and then killed individually the next day. The only way to legally kill these dolphins is by pushing a thin metal rod into their neck. The Japanese government supports these drives by contributing them to ancient traditions, other organizations say the drives began in the late 1960s.

Current Global Dolphin Populations

Dolphins are marine mammals that belong to the Cetacea group along with whales. Approximately forty species of dolphins exist in oceans and rivers throughout the world. They are keynote species at the top of the food chain. Dolphin species are threatened by contaminants such as pesticides, heavy metals, and plastics. Not only do these harm dolphins internally but they also effectively kill off typical dolphin prey. Climate change has also heated the ocean waters, forcing dolphins to search for food in deeper, colder water. Boating accidents and their propellers often cause fatal injuries as well.

Potential Consequences

The impact of the dolphin drives in Taiji are difficult to measure due to the wide range of dolphin movements around the world. In the 2015 hunt, 111 dolphins were taken into captivity, 652 dolphins were slaughtered, and 121 were returned to the sea. In 2014, 751 dolphins were killed. These numbers have decreased significantly since 2000 records of 2,009 kills. Because dolphins are top predators in marine ecosystems, big changes in their population numbers can be detrimental to other species in the same waters. It can disrupt the dolphin breeding cycle as well and take significant time to repopulate the lost mammals. When these marine mammals are targeted for the entertainment industry, females are preferred. The removal of females from wild populations has even more detrimental consequences on breeding and ultimately reduces the population over time. Attempting to capture a small number of dolphins can result in the indirect death and injury of many others.

The IUCN Red List states that striped dolphins, the most widely targeted by the Taiji hunts, have been eliminated from Japanese coastal waters. Additionally, bottlenose and pantropical spotted dolphin populations have drastically declined. In total, the fishers target nine different species. Of these, 8 have unsustainable catch limits and risk extinction off the coasts. Short-finned pilot whales and false killer whales do not have sufficient data about their population sizes, but drive hunts are considered a major threat to both species.


Criticisms of the Taiji dolphin drive hunt are many but focus mainly on unsustainability and cruelty. Critics call the practice inhumane with no regard for population numbers and environmental destruction. People against dolphin drive hunts also point to the fact that international governments have prohibited commercial whaling for the last three decades. They suggest that the same ban exists for smaller sea mammals. Japan strongly opposes this move.

The Horrors Of The Taiji Dolphin Drive Hunt: Dolphins Killed Between 2000 And 2015

RankYearNumber of dolphins killed or removed for captivity from the Taiji drive hunts.

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