Get Some Bottle: Dolphin Slaughtering in Japan

Dead dolphins after hunting
Dolphins after slaughter - photo courtesy of

By Rahsian Parris

With the new movie The Cove due to hit UK screens this month, the riveting depiction of the horrors surrounding Japanese Whale and Dolphin slaughtering has come at an ideal time. The beginning of hunting season.

Under the light of the warm summer sun herds of small children and adults alike pour into dolphinariums, theme parks and marine mammal parks to get a small glimpse of these spectacular creatures in action. The applause crescendos into a roar of happy cheers, a sea of smiling faces, as one of the most intelligent animals on the planet performs an array of playful tasks. Swimming backwards? Check! Balancing a ball on its nose? Check! The benevolent mammals seemingly have no qualms about jumping through hoops for their superiors, but when the sun starts to set, the doors begin to shut and the chill of the night air sets in, the only reminder of the joys of the day are the empty candy floss sticks stuck to the concrete floors.

Fast-forward a few months and in the small fishing town of Taiji, Japan, Dolphin hunting season has begun. Select fisherman of the 3,500 populated town, are poised in position, watching with stealth and trained eyes for a pod of dolphins. When the group are identified they are debilitated by fisherman who bang metal rods together in the water, disorientating the mammals and effecting their ultra sensitive sonars. The crippled animals are quickly driven into a cove blocked off by other boats and nets, trapped, they are left overnight to calm down. The next day the Dolphins are individually captured and then killed one by one. A sharp metal pin is driven into the neck of the Dolphin. It dies almost instantaneously. This method of killing is said to be less brutal than the previous method which has been made illegal in Japan, where after the Dolphin is separated from the other captives, its throat is slit and the Dolphin is left to violently convulse before its imminent death.

The hunt starts at the beginning of September, with the first day bringing in at least 100 Bottlenose Dolphins and maybe some Pilot Whales, but Japan’s annual quota is approximately 20,000 Dolphins. Aquariums can pay up to £90,000 for one of these Dolphins, but most of them are killed, their meat being sold for about £330 per carcass. Tickets for a show at a dolphinarium can cost as little as £20.

It has been argued that Whale and Dolphin hunting is part of the Japanese tradition, that the meat gathered during the hunts becomes part of  the local dishes, which are part of the culture, which is paramount to the identity of the nation, however, after capture, the slaughtering takes place very much under wraps, behind (several) closed doors (barriers), as far away from prying eyes as it is from patriots. Although there are several organizations that continuously strive to put a stop to the slaughtering of Dolphins and Whales in Japan, and on a smaller scale, in other places, drive hunting, as it is known, continues to be a serious, global, animal welfare issue.

One activist in particular has been making a stand for over three decades. Ex-Dolphin trainer, Ric O’Barry is a dedicated campaigner against the atrocities of drive hunting, saying “I’ve been working with dolphins for most of my life. I watched them give birth. I’ve nursed them back to health. When I see what happens in this cove in Taiji, I want to do something about it.” In his new film The Cove he seeks to uncover the truth surrounding the multi-billion dollar Dolphin entertainment industry that he himself use to endorse (O’Barry captured and trained all 5 Dolphins that were used in the television series “Flipper”). The movie seeks to expose, educate and inspire people into action, showing the reality of the blood thirsty industries that hide behind sugar coated notions and sun kissed dreams.

Over a montage of breath taking clips of Dolphins swimming out at sea, coupled with grim, savage scenes filmed on hidden cameras by O’Barry’s team of activists, we hear the voice-over “If I destroy anything in nature, I’m taking it away from myself and the human race has to wake up to that, because we’re losing it all and we’re losing it at a horrifying rate.” and suddenly you are taken back to those fond, sun drenched, childhood memories where the summers are extra long and the future is a certainty, yet the in the back of your mind an image lingers and in this image there are no hoops, no beach balls, no tomorrow.

The Cove is in cinemas from the 23rd of October