Statement on Taiji Dolphin Hunt

January 24th, 2014
Dolphin & Whale (Iruka & Kujira) Action Network

   On January 17th, 250 bottle-nosed dolphins were driven into a bay in Taiji, Wakayama Prefecture. The news came out from a foreign watch group stationed in Taiji, and it spread throughout the world. The critical tweet on the hunt by the American Ambassador in Japan, Mrs. Caroline Kennedy, also drew media and public attention, building up a huge international outcry to stop the hunt. At the same time, we see a different reaction within Japan: there is a noticeable tendency for self-defense and people taking nationalistic stance. It seems that the real issue has been muddied as it was switched to an issue of cultural conflict.

   Our group has been working within Japan to protect dolphins and whales, and we would like to point out some problems we now face in order to bring change into this situation.

1) Dolphin hunt as a legal industrial practice - How to proceed to change this
   In 1996 at the time of when the Network was first set up, we discovered and denounced the illegal operation in Ito, Shizuoka Pref. We lobbied the government to take measure against such violations and reconsider dolphin hunt, while rolling out a large protest against the hunt. This led to the release of the dolphins that were above the permitted quota and the six false killer whales that were already taken by aquariums. Now Futo, the area that used to be famous for dolphin hunts, operates whale/dolphin watching, with the former hunters being the guides. The dolphin hunt is not practiced there, for now.
   We can say from our own experience that the dolphin hunt is clearly unethical, considering the stress it creates by chasing the whole pod for the capture and separating young from the rest, as well as the killing method itself.
   At the same time, the Japanese government sees cetaceans as marine resources, and approves hunting of dolphins within quotas that are set up from the perspective of industrial sustainability. Dolphin hunt is a legal industrial activity, and what we are faced with is the task of changing this very premise. Protesting from abroad without bridging the gap between these differences in perceptions cannot overcome the claim that the protest is breaching the sovereign rights. It is critical that the voice comes from within Japan.
2) Apply the concept of animal welfare on cetaceans
   The Ministry of Environment of Japan manages animal welfare with the law
called Act on Welfare and Management of Animals. Marine animals, however,are managed by the Fisheries Agency where animal welfare standards do not apply. The difference between the land and the sea is highly political and economy-based. Applying the welfare standards set by the environmental ministry on the dolphin hunt can be a way of evaluating the ethicality of the practice. For that reason, approaching the environmental ministry can be one possible path to solving the issue.
3) Compliance to international scientific recommendations is necessary
   The report from the IWC Scientific Committee held in South Korea last May shows that the concern of the drive hunt in Taiji was shared by many scientists, and put forth below recommendations:

The Committee therefore re-iterates its previous concerns (IWC, 1992; 1993; 1998c) and recommends that:
(1) up-to-date assessments of these exploited populations be undertaken, including studies of population structure and life-history; (2) up-to-date data on struck and lost rates, bycatch rates, directed hunting effort, stock identity and reproductive status and age composition of catches be collected and made available; and
(3) catch limits take into account struck and lost and bycatch rates and be based on up-to-date population assessments, and be sustainable with allowance for population recovery.

   This shows that even from the perspective of maintaining the industry, the current practice of dolphin hunt has problems, which needs better recognition and the government should comply with the recommendations.

   We have been working within Japan based on the beliefs above. We decided to release this statement because we believe that our point of view will be a key to solving the dolphin hunt issue.
   One of the agenda items at the IWC Scientific Committee that has been argued for a long time is changing the management of small-type cetaceans from national jurisdiction to the IWC, as the animals are cross-border like larger cetacean species. The international movement surrounding the Japanese dolphin hunt is a reminder that these migratory marine animals do not belong to one particular country or region, and that addressing the issue should involve diverse group of people including the local government and fishermen. We hope to see a solution coming out of this way.