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Taiji Dolphin Slaughter Generates Worldwide Condemnation

More than 250 dolphins captured, including albino calf, at least two dozen slaughtered for meat

The dolphin hunters in Taiji have kicked off the new year with a murderous and greed-driven rampage, their dolphin drive hunt in mid-January being one of the biggest in recent memory.

On January 16, five separate pods of bottlenose dolphins, totaling an estimated 250 individuals and including one baby albino, were brutally driven into the killing cove, made famous by the Oscar-winning documentary The Cove.

photo of dolphins penned by nets in a bloody covephoto by Ric O'Barry's Dolphin Project

Over the five harrowing days in captivity, families were torn apart as the fishermen collected a reported 52 “show-quality” dolphins to be shipped to the highest bidding aquariums around the world. Another two to three dozen were inhumanely slaughtered for human consumption. The remaining dolphins were then driven back out to sea, where it is expected that their physical and emotional trauma will leave permanent scarring at best, or at worst, lead to an agonizing death.

In other words, it was business as usual in Taiji.  

This dolphin hunt attracted international condemnation. US Ambassador to Japan Caroline Kennedy tweeted her opposition to the hunts and was later backed by the US State Department. The United Kingdom and German ambassadors to Japan also tweeted their concern, along with a host of prominent celebrities including William Shatner, Susan Sarandon, Yoko Ono and many others.  Ono, who is usually a staunch defender of Japan, wrote an open letter of opposing the hunt and asking the Japanese fishermen to stop the hunts for the good of Japan.

Undoubtedly, the sheer number of dolphins driven into the cove drew the ire of people around the world and was responsible for the significant international media attention. However, it was one special member of that ill-begotten group of dolphins that first captured the hearts of many.

photo of dolphins at sea, a small one completely white in colorphoto by Karla Sanjur

Dubbed “Angel” by Ric O’Barry and Karla Sanjur of Earth Island Institute’s Dolphin Project, the albino dolphin is a baby girl, first spotted swimming closely beside her mother as they were driven into the cove. Angel has become an unwitting icon of the Taiji tragedies — a pure white, possibly soon-to-be martyr, whose photos have gone viral on social media, courtesy of the countless people who saw immediately felt a connection with this unique dolphin baby.

Animal welfare groups have long been arguing that dolphins ought to be considered nonhuman persons. Personhood status for dolphins is the first step in what will likely be a long journey to confer better protections onto dolphins, and perhaps many other nonhuman species as well.. If we can get this important  legal designation conferred onto dolphins, they will go from being considered “marine resources,” as Japan’s Chief Cabinet Secretary, Yoshihide Suga, likes to think of them, to beings who are intelligent, emotional, and who matter to one another.  Personhood could open the door for us to give them the right to exist in the oceans in peace. A right they do not currently have. 

Sadly, the unique lack of pigmentation makes Angel a highly prized show exhibit for the Taiji Whale Museum that’s run by the town government of Taiji. The museum brokers the sale of many of the dolphins caught in the cove to aquariums around the world.

For regular updates from Taiji, follow the Dolphin_Project on Twitter.

For the time being, Angel remains locked within the Taiji Whale Museum along with the rest of the dolphins. Lying ahead of her is a lifetime of being an outlandish spectacle for human entertainment. Provided she can survive the trauma she has endured.

Just yesterday, another dolphin pod was driven into the cove and slaughtered. The fishermen have not yet filled their annual quota. They have not enslaved or chopped up enough dolphins yet. But they have ample time for that. since the hunting season officially ends in March. And in September, the hunts will begin all over again.

Laura Bridgeman
Laura Bridgeman is director of Sonar, an organization that advocates for dolphin and whale personhood, and Campaign & Communications Specialist at Earth Island's International Marine Mammal Project.

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Just wanted to say hi to ignorant Aaron & tell him he does make a difference, I just signed yet another petition due to him!

By Donna Dwight on Tue, January 28, 2014 at 1:27 am

Ha ha, Aaron!  You are too funny. What many of us against this and other atrocities post IS ALREADY making a difference! We have created enough public relations pressure to make countries create new laws against poaching, had marine parks change so they no longer have and no longer exploit orcas and other dolphins, have abused wild animals be sent to sanctuaries for much better lives and even had huge worldwide publicity for this very issue last week—so much that even ambassadors are discussing it with Japan! So you can remain one of the “I don’t care” cogs in this world but I and those like me will indeed CONTINUE to change laws and end cruelty even if its one by one. I know I will enjoy good Karma for it and I hope you enjoy whatever “Karma” your inaction and derogatory attitude gets you.

By Renee wrede on Sun, January 26, 2014 at 3:02 pm

Aaron you are a prime example of everything that is wrong with this world today. YOU are the only person that matters, what YOU want is the only thing that matters, and anything else, then YOU just can’t be bothered and don’t care. Are you a politician by any chance?

By Foxie on Sun, January 26, 2014 at 1:52 pm

To Angry Guy Aaron- It does make a difference! Just because you are angry at the world and have no love in your heart for all beings does not mean you can shove your angry beliefs down everyone’s throat because guess what nobody cares about some cynic who he himself can only spout useless dribble that does nothing for the world. Really we who care, care deeply and will do what it takes to change life on this planet for the better for ALL it’s inhabitants even scum like you dude!

By Kathy on Sun, January 26, 2014 at 9:17 am

@aaron is people like you who are never gonna change the world we are here as one , together we’re gonna fight this battle we don’t need negative people like you if you don’t care don’t follow or look at this page .. It’s sad to see people like you god bless you.

By Shirley alf on Sun, January 26, 2014 at 12:30 am

You guys are worse than the government. sticking your nose where it dont belong. If some one in a foreign country, leave it to the people of that foreign country to take care of it. None of the events that took place will have a direct effect on your life. if you think this hasnt been going on for years and years your ignorant. Life will go on i promise. And NOBODY cares if your vegan or whatever you choose. You dont see me running around telling you not to be vegan and what you should and shouldnt do. You guys are not a higher power. Your nobody important. YOUR WASTING YOUR TIME posting on this talking about what should and shouldnt be done. If it bothers you that bad, take a trip to one of the many places in the world this goes on at, put your money where your mouth is and stop them yourselves. unless you guys fear them??? because if thats the case stop writing checks your ass cant cash, and do something productive with your day?? seems to make alot more sense to me. By the way, NOBODY is going to stop killing dolphins if you go vegan hahaha. you guys are a joke and the reason america isnt america anymore. and no i dont have proper grammar in this post. BECAUSE I DONT CARE. so if you complain know that i dont care. just wanted to remind you guys that you dont make an impact on the world. Because you truly are not making a difference with anything posted here

By Aaron on Sat, January 25, 2014 at 7:41 am

Ban all Japan’s products (like cars, electronics…) and costumes (like eatin sushi). Get to them where it hurts and watch the dolphim killing stop. PLEASE!!!!!!

By TANIA on Fri, January 24, 2014 at 5:40 pm

Join in on the debate over Taiji dolphin slaughter at . The online tournament is open to high school and undergraduates around the world to compete. Academics, activists, experts, and instructors are all invited to judge.

By Joe on Fri, January 24, 2014 at 5:09 pm

Another documentary showed that most of the meat being sold in Japanese supermarkets as “Whale meat” was actually dolphin meat too.  Not only are they killing a likely sentient marine mammal, they are flat out lying to the consumers buying it about what it actually is.  Not that whale meat real or false can be excused.  It merely shows the criminal mindsets of those involved.

By Anon on Fri, January 24, 2014 at 12:25 am


By sheilah shaktiva on Thu, January 23, 2014 at 11:34 pm

Thank you for your response, and also for writing this article.

I think this dolphin slaughter topic is very important. Even if the customary Taiji killing continues, I think it is important for people to look at what we do in the name of food, comfort, and luxury.

I imagine that most readers easily will see at the Taiji slaughter as unethical. Given that judgment within the context of our factory farming society, it is sensible for them also to see the implications of their own dietary choices.

Even if the vegan and/or liberationist movements do not succeed in converting the entire US within our lifetimes, I think that conversion of small portions of the population does matter to those individual animals who are spared.

By Jon Spear on Thu, January 23, 2014 at 8:40 pm

These things are both shameful. But the enormity of converting a quarter-billion carrion-eaters to veganism is beyond daunting. Ending the vestiges of an obscene local practice is within our grasp.

By Sredni Vashtar on Thu, January 23, 2014 at 6:32 pm

I don’t know what you mean by “valid comparison.”

I agree with you that wildlife slaughter is different from factory farming in some significant ways. For example, in animal slaughtered in wildlife does not survive a lifetime of tortured existence before being killed.

Another difference is that we, as Americans, have a personal choice that can contribute directly to the suffering of animals, via the products we consume each day. Not many of us buy Japanese dolphin meat, but many do eat bacon and drink milk. If you care about the suffering of innocent and intelligent animals, stop it.

By Jon Spear on Thu, January 23, 2014 at 6:14 pm

Jon, I agree with you. I have been an animal rights advocate for many years now, which I why I make sure to mention nonhuman personhood in nearly every article I write as I believe that is an important step towards basic rights, not only for dolphins but all nonhumans.

There is no excuse for the amount of abuse that goes on in the US or around the world. It should all end.

I have been vegan for over three years now, and vegetarian for 13 years before that. Never going back.

By Laura Bridgeman on Thu, January 23, 2014 at 6:01 pm

Factory farming isn’t a valid comparison, and it’s the one the Drive Fishery advocates use all the time. More apt would be another commercial large-scale slaughter of wildlife. Passenger pigeons, perhaps; or Bison.

By Sredni Vashtar on Thu, January 23, 2014 at 5:40 pm

The Taiji slaughter of dolphins is rightly described as being horrible. For the sake of compassion, this custom of a small group of Japanese fishermen should be stopped.

More relevant to most of your readers in the US, and even more horrible, is the well accepted American custom of factory farmed animals. The gestation crates for pigs and the treatment of dairy cows in this country are more horrible than the dolphin slaughter, both in the scale of killing and in the duration of misery suffered. Pigs and cows are intelligent social mammals, just like humans and dolphins.

If you think that the treatment of these dolphins is wrong, I think you should also go vegan, to make your own lifestyle consistent with such ethical values.

By Jon Spear on Thu, January 23, 2014 at 5:02 pm

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