Approximately 20,000 dolphins are killed legally each year in Taiji, Japan. The majority is killed at sea, but thousands are killed in dolphin hunts along coastal lagoons and coves. Dolphin hunts also occur in coastal island areas of the South Pacific and North Atlantic but they are nowhere near as large as those in Taiji.
Commercial whaling was outlawed in 1986 by the International Whaling Commission, but dolphin hunts remain legal.
Dolphin hunts take place both to capture live dolphins for marine parks and aquariums and to kill dolphins for their meat.
A live dolphin captured for a marine mammal park can fetch up to $200,000. A dolphin killed for meat draws about $600.
In coastal areas, dolphins are hunted by “drive-fishing” or “drive hunting” techniques, in which the dolphins are herded into net cages by loud banging sounds that disrupt their sensitive sonar, causing them to panic. Once trapped in the nets, they are either dragged to shore or to shallow cove waters where they remain until slaughtering.
Once a live dolphin is selected for a marine park, aquarium or swim-with-dolphins program, it is separated from its close-knit family unit, hoisted in trucks and planes and transported from the ocean to a far-away pool where it will face stiff odds of survival.
Over half of all captured dolphins will die within 2 years of their captivity. They must rapidly adjust to a new environment where they can no longer swim their customary 40 miles a day in open waters, engage with their social group or use their sonar properly.
Dolphins not selected for marine parks are then “sitting ducks” for local fishermen who kill them for the price their meat will fetch. In shallow coves, they are killed at close quarters with spears, knives and hooks.
The primary economic driver of dolphin hunting is the multi-million dollar marine park business, which allows fishermen the resources to undertake additional slaughter for meat.
Most citizens in Japan are unaware of the dolphin hunts and the serious toxicity of dolphin meat, which contains high levels of mercury and PCBs.
International attention and protest has helped to halt some dolphin hunts in the past but has not stopped the practice from continuing in the 21st Century.