Dolphin Fishing in Japan
In the historic fishing village of Taiji, there is an annual dolphin hunt that takes place for sport. This culling (or selective slaughter to reduce the dolphin population) in Taiji is a tradition that is mostly unknown to Japanese outside this town because the fishermen hide it from view. Dolphin hunting differs from my aforementioned shark fin hunting because the entire dolphin is actually used and eaten, but the fact that many dolphins are hunted just for sport makes it an unsustainable practice. Although dolphin hunting throughout Japan has largely been hidden from then public due to its unorthodox methods, what happens in Taiji is especially cruel. Local fishermen bang metal poles on the sides of the boats to disorient the dolphins, herding them with boats and nets into a closed off portion of shallow water. Fishermen take advantage of the moment dolphins near the boats by stabbing them with knives and spears to incapacitate them. Once too weak to struggle, they are brought onto shore to be finished off.
This overload of dolphin hunting has led to a few thousand tons of dolphin meat being stored in stockpiles, because fishermen continue to bring more dolphins to shore even as demand for dolphin meat in Japan has hit an all-time low. This can hardly be considered sustainable. Aside from the inhumanity of these killings causing Japan to come under fire from the international community (and some of it’s local community), it has also been discovered that dolphin meat causes health problems with its dangerous levels of mercury. Just two years ago, mercury tests were finally conducted among the Japanese population. The results showed that mercury levels in populations residing in Japanese port cities are 18 times higher than the government mandated level of mercury that’s considered safe, and also much higher than mercury levels in the rest of the population. This has led to a recent decrease in the demand of dolphin meat, but fishermen are still continuing to slaughter dolphins for the sake of tradition. The dolphins that make it to market are often falsely advertised as other types of meat or fish as another way of getting rid of the oversupply.
What Japanese fishermen and officials are calling a part of their culture, is part tradition and part pest-control. It might be argued that while tradition does continue to play a role in Taiji’s dolphin hunting, other fishermen are killing dolphins as a way of wiping out the competition for fish. Surrounded by water, Japan is very dependent on its fishing industry. Overfishing is already a huge problem that has decreased the stock of fish, and fishermen feel they are competing with dolphins for the fish that are left in the sea. What some consider inhumane slaughter, the Japanese government views as a legitimate form of pest control. Many in the older generation in Japan also doesn’t understand the international outrage over their dolphin fishing practices. They believe that it is part of their culture and simply a way of life that shouldn’t be regarded as so different from killing cows or pigs. On the other hand, the younger generation has a tendency to move away from such traditional practices and has no strong ties to dolphin hunting. I am hoping that the younger generation can thus help change the fishing industry in Japan, as well as by helping the older generation change their views on dolphin hunting as a cultural necessity. I hope they will see that hunting dolphins is not entertainment and that it’s not only unnecessary but also dangerous if kept in their diet.
This means general fishing practices in Japan should be altered so that there will be no overfishing, and dolphins will consequently not be viewed as competition for fish. NGO and environmental group protests are a method to bring awareness and disrupt dolphin hunting, but I’m unsure of whether this is the best solution. I believe that while it’s important for the world to know this is a problem that needs to be dealt with, the Japanese population is also the only one that can effect long-term change. In recent years, some Japanese citizens have begun to question dolphin hunting and decided to no longer eat dolphin meat. When international groups interfere with dolphin hunting, many Japanese fishermen and government officials view it as a personal attack on their culture and people, causing them to close off and become angry, at interference from other parts of the world. To me, a paramount goal is to disseminate information and spread awareness among the Japanese population who previously knew nothing about the inhumane killing of dolphins and impact on mercury levels caused by dolphin meat, without coming across as judgmental or authoritarian.