JAPAN’S shame – the slaughter for at least half the year of beautiful, intelligent, trusting dolphins – was brought to the world’s attention in 2009, when the film The Cove won the Oscar for Best Documentary. Since then, outrage about this evil, primeval and brutal practice has grown. This year, in particular, thanks largely to the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society and its Cove Guardians, more campaigners than ever have become involved.
For my part, I’ve written to the Prime Minister of Japan and the Japanese ambassador in the UK to object. From the Taiji fishermen’s own tweets, it’s easy to see that expressing fury, rudeness and threats are counter-productive, and that trying to coax them into co-operation will be far more effective in influencing the Japanese. They also take note more of scientific evidence than emotion. So this is what I’ve written. If you have been upset by the horrific, bloody dolphin murders and can spare a minute, please use these words to also write a letter. Use my words if you like – I won’t mind. There are also email addresses here.Prime Minister Shinzo Abe
Cabinet Office, Government of Japan, 1-6-1 Nagata-cho
Chiyoda-ku, Tokyo 100-8914
Dear Prime Minister Abe,
I write with the utmost respect to you, your people, traditions and culture, and in a spirit of mutual co-operation.
Scientific research on dolphins has demonstrated their sophisticated cognitive abilities including self- and social awareness, and scientists worldwide agree that dolphins are sentient, intelligent mammals, with highly sophisticated family lives. Therefore the annual hunt at Taiji, involving a violent captive-selection process and mass killings, is exceptionally stressful to them. And the inhumane slaughter methods used would not be allowed in any abattoir in the world.
I urge you to give serious consideration to offers made to you to accept payments in exchange for ceasing this practice, possibly setting up a new dolphin-watching industry whose income would replace that of the dolphin-hunters. This is because the evidence of intense, unacceptable suffering is overwhelming.
The slaughter guidelines of the World Organization for Animal Health are conservative, and call for animals slaughtered for consumption to be given minimal stress and killed swiftly, with the least possible pain. Japan’s dolphin hunts do not meet even these guidelines and are far from the world’s idea of “humane hunting”.
Dolphin deaths at Taiji, as I am sure you know, can be slow and agonising. Those who have been traumatically separated from their now-captive family members are forced to witness other loved ones being killed before their eyes, and forced to swim in water turned red with the blood of their family members.
In 2010, a supposedly “more humane” killing method was devised, involving using a thin rod to impale dolphins behind their blowhole and sever the spinal cord. But studies since have refuted this claim. Experts at the University of Bristol Veterinary School, UK, said: “This method does not fulfil the internationally recognised requirement for immediacy. It would not be tolerated in any regulated slaughterhouse in the developed world.” The scientists concluded that dolphins took longer to die than the Taiji team claimed – up to five minutes.
Killing methods apart, when young dolphins are torn from their families, those taken for a lifetime of imprisonment may succumb to the huge stress and their injuries. Taiji hunters claim that dolphins will accept foreign calves back into a pod. Scientific studies in 1999 and 2002 by the NMFS on incidental catch by commercial fisheries concluded that when cetaceans are driven, captured and contained, it has long-term negative consequences for the entire pod, even after release. The effects range from myocardial injuries to tissue injuries and renal failure, resulting in prolonged suffering and often death.
Nor is transfer to an aquarium acceptable: even the largest give captive dolphins access to only a fraction of 1 per cent of the ocean: wild dolphins can swim up to 100 miles a day.
Taiji hunters claim that the practice is legal and adheres to the regulations of both your national and the prefectural governments.
But, as you know, legislation in Japan prohibits inhumane treatment to animals. The Act on Welfare and Management of Animals (Act No 105 of 1973), states that its aim is to prevent cruelty to animals and to “engender a feeling of love for animals among the people”. The Act states: “All people must not only refrain from killing, injuring and inflicting cruelty upon animals, but they must also treat animals properly taking their natural habits into account.” Even if the Act does not cover mammals in the sea, the dolphin hunt is none the less out of step with the spirit of this law.
Taiji hunters also say that people in the West eat cows, pigs and other animals. This is true – but in abattoirs in most countries, animals are stunned before slaughter so that they should not suffer. But dolphins are not stunned, therefore no comparison can be made. Dolphins suffer every bit as much as a human does if he or she is stabbed to death or drowns in blood. Also, in abattoirs, death is instant. Some of us are already working hard to raise slaughter standards here, and to discourage meat-eating.
Abattoirs are not perfect. But two wrongs don’t make a right.
Your hunters further claim Western opponents are trying to impose their values on your country. Far from it: the West, which admires Japan, once considered human slavery and colonisation were acceptable but later admitted it was wrong on this, and now Western society has long since moved on.
Hunters also claim that anthropomorphising dolphins by welfare campaigners has led to a very simplistic view of the problem. In fact, we recognise that this is a complex problem and that many people in Japan eat dolphin meat. However, ways forward for the future can be found by working with the dolphins, involving setting up new industries to replace this one based on suffering.
These are rational arguments, based on unbiased scientific evidence, and we very much hope, with respect, that you and your Government and people will work with the rest of the world to admirably take the initiative to move on from this practice, as befits a sophisticated 21st-century nation.
We know that you, your ministers, your fishermen and your people are not without feeling or compassion, and I believe you already know that putting your compassion to positive use involves living with and alongside the dolphins in harmony, engendering mutual respect and love between humans and marine animals.