Japan is still the worse place to be a dolphin or whale as cetacean hunts continue to be unsustainable. The Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) released a report this month on Japan’s overfishing of dolphins, whales and porpoises. The EIA’s mission is to bring about change that protects the natural world from environmental crime and abuse.
In the report, the EIA questions the Japanese management of small cetaceans, also known as dolphins, porpoises, and whales. They express a concern over Japan’s transparency on the management, citing that statistics are not up-to-date and catch limits are set too high. By setting these catch limits, the government is allowing for the over-exploitation of the cetaceans’ population resulting in dropping numbers of many species. Although Japan has set a catch limit of 16,665 cetaceans in 2013, it still remains the largest hunt in the world.
The three types of hunts that occur in Japan’s coastal waters include small-type coastal whaling, hand harpoon hunts, and drive hunts. Each method of hunting targets specific groups of cetaceans from whales to dolphins. These hunts result in food but also the live sale of animals, especially dolphins.
Small-type coastal whaling is practiced through the use of small whaling vessels, less than 55 tons in size. They use a canon to hunt mostly Baird’s beaked whales and shot-finned pilot whales. Most hunts take place within 50 nautical miles of the shore. However, this method of hunting is in decline due to the shrinking populations of pilot whales.
Drive hunts require a number of boats to surround a group of cetaceans and drive them to an enclosed area of the shore, where nets trap them in. Once trapped, the boats begin to hunt the cetaceans one by one, catching some alive to sell to aquariums while killing others for food. It was once a popular hunting method that dateed back to the 14th century but now is restricted to two areas of Japan, Futo and Taiji. Taiji is where the documentary “The Cove” was filmed exposing the cruelty involved in this type of hunting.
Drive hunts have supplied the increasing demand for live dolphins. Japan made over $15 million in exports from 2002 to 2012, selling 389 dolphins to 15 different countries. China was the largest consumer, buying 248 (64 percent) of the exported dolphins. Cetaceans caught alive can be sold for anywhere from $8,400 to $98,000, making the hunt a very lucrative venture.
Hand harpoon hunts are the oldest of the three hunts, dating back to prehistoric times. In this hunt, a ship follows dolphins, porpoises or small whales till they are exhausted, at which point, the ship is able to get close enough for hunters to throw harpoons at the animal. This is a similar approach to whaling as read about in “Moby Dick,” the novel by Herman Melville.
According to the EIA, eight different species can be hunted by the hand harpoon method but the Dall’s porpoise is the most impactful. Since 1986, over 400,000 Dall’s porpoises have been killed by this type of hunt.
Although the EIA suggests the Japanese government should reassess their monitoring and regulation of the cetacean hunts, they ultimately suggest phasing out the hunts over a ten year period. However, this may be too late for many species and isn’t it time to end these barbaric forms of hunting? After all, cetaceans are highly intelligent beings, and, like other animals, don’t deserve to be killed cold blood.
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