Japan’s controversial annual dolphin hunt begins

More than a decade after “The Cove” revealed the cruelty behind the practice, Taiji fishermen continue to round up dolphins to supply aquariums and marine parks.

The Japanese town of Taiji’s controversial dolphin hunt is now in its ninth day, and fishermen have caught at least seven bottlenose dolphins so far in a hunting season expected to last until March 2022.

Some are caught and sold to marine parks and dolphinariums, mainly in Japan and China, and several hundred are slaughtered for meat, according to the Dolphin Project, a California-based advocacy group. (Over the past several years, hunters have caught several hundred fewer dolphins than the quota allows).

Activist Ren Yabuki, with the animal welfare group Life Investigation Agency, in Japan, has been at the Taiji cove every day, filming and reporting catch numbers on social media in partnership with the Dolphin Project. Yabuki has done this every season for the past six years.

“When the dolphins and whales are driven into the cove from offshore, it is like your blood boils and starts to flow backwards,” Yabuki says. “Dolphins and whales, who have done nothing wrong, are suddenly and forcibly captured. Their families are torn apart. They are captured for the aquarium trade in front of [their] family and pod members or killed right in front of their families and siblings. (Read about how we know animals think and feel.)

The hunt has attracted global condemnation since 2009, when the Academy Award-winning documentary The Cove revealed how Taiji fishermen round up hundreds of dolphins, forcing them into the cove, where they’re captured or slaughtered.

Dolphin meat is still popular in Taiji, but demand for dolphin and whale meat nationwide in Japan has decreased in recent years, and many distributors and processors have closed.

A dolphin can sell for $500 for its meat, but a live bottlenose dolphin for the dolphinarium trade can bring $8,000 to $12,000, according to the Washington Post.