International Marine Mammal Project

$40,000 for falsely labeled “Dolphin Safe” tuna

Earth Island News

The International Marine Mammal Project (IMMP) is celebrating a major court case against smugglers bringing Dolores tuna into the US from Mexico with a phony Amigo de Delfin (Dolphin Friendly) stamp on the cans. In San Diego federal court, Salvador Garcia Sandoval, owner of Mexican Trade Grocery of Chula Vista, California, pleaded guilty to importing more than 1,600 cases of dolphin-deadly tuna. He agreed to pay the US government $40,000 in back duty payments and $1,975 to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Fisheries for administrative costs.

“This case will send a warning to all markets and grocers in the US,” states David Phillips, executive director of IMMP. “Falsely labeled tuna hurts dolphins, US consumers, and US tuna companies that have adopted ‘Dolphin Safe’ tuna fishing practices. American consumers deserve to know whether the tuna they buy was caught by methods that harm dolphins or not.”

Take action: If you find tuna without a “Dolphin Safe” label or
“Dolores” tuna with a phony “Amigo del Delfin” label, contact
IMMP at 300 Broadway, Suite 28, San Francisco, CA 94133;
(415) 788-3666 (voice); (415) 788-7324 (fax); Include the name and address
of the store. Better yet, send us a can in the mail.

IMMP, reacting to reports of illegal tuna showing up in US supermarkets, conducted an investigation and documented that Dolores tuna, canned in Mazatlan, was being sold as “Dolphin Friendly” in many US stores. Dolores tuna is canned by PINSA, the largest cannery in Mexico, which has a fleet of purse seine boats which chase and net dolphins to catch the tuna, killing many dolphins in the process. More than seven million dolphins have been killed in the tuna fishery since the late 1950s when large purse seine nets were first introduced.

Earth Island contacted investigators with NOAA Fisheries, who, in concert with US Customs, caught a truckload of Dolores tuna at the border. The load of tuna was traced to TBA Mexican Trade Grocery. Maximum penalty for fraudulent importation of merchandise is five years in jail and a $250,000 fine. IMMP continues to work to find dolphin-deadly tuna in US markets and educate storeowners about the dangers of such tuna to dolphins.
— Mark J. Palmer

Euro moratorium on whale-killing sonars

On October 28, the European Parliament overwhelmingly approved a resolution calling for a moratorium on the use of extremely loud sonars that have been linked with whale deaths around the world. The moratorium is voluntary, but puts the onus on European countries to implement a moratorium while studies of the impacts and alternatives are conducted.

IMMP and the Ocean Noise Coalition composed the original draft resolution, and the resolution was endorsed by dozens of European and American environmental organizations. A delegation with representatives from both sides of the Atlantic met last year with European Parliament members to submit the resolution.

The International Whaling Commission’s Scientific Committee conducted a workshop on underwater sonars and whale strandings this summer, concluding that there is “compelling evidence” that military sonar use is causing some mass strandings of whales. Such strandings have been documented in the Bahamas, the Canary Islands, and the Virgin Islands.

IMMP, the Ocean Mammal Institute, and the ocean protection group Seaflow have set up a new Web site to address the international impacts of ocean noise. You can find it at
— Mark J. Palmer

Stop the dolphin drive fishery in Japan!

IMMP has partnered with leading French animal protection society One Voice and the Japanese environmental organization Elsa Nature Conservancy in an effort to stop the annual massacre of dolphins in Japan. Approximately 20,000 dolphins and other small whales are slaughtered each year in Japan.

Some are killed at sea with handheld harpoons; others are killed in a “drive fishery,” in which fishermen drive pods of dolphins into a small cove and kill them with butcher knives and sharp hooks.

Dolphins in the killing cove. Photo by Helene O'Barry
The fishermen have driven a large pod of bottlenose dolphins into the killing cove.
They are cutting off the dolphins’ escape with two nets placed 50 feet apart.
Photo by Helene O’Barry

It’s a small minority of fishermen in remote fishing villages that carry out the hunts. The fishermen take extreme measures to prevent anyone from witnessing and filming their activities. As a result, the vast majority of the Japanese population is unaware that the drive fishery exists. It is vital, therefore, to document the dolphin massacres and help the Japanese people gain access to the information that has been systematically withheld from them. Teams of videographers have just spent several weeks in two remote fishing villages where the hunts are carried out.

The town of Futo became the center of controversy in 1999 when fishermen there captured some 70 bottlenose dolphins. The massacre caused an international uproar and due to the resulting media attention, no dolphins were killed there between 1999 and 2004. Unfortunately, however, fishermen in Futo announced that they would resume the dolphin hunt this year. The chairman of Ito Fishing Cooperative Futo Branch told members of One Voice that several Japanese dolphinaria had placed an order for young bottlenose dolphins. He further stated that a few of the dolphins would be butchered for human consumption and at least one killed for research purposes.

The fishermen are paranoid about being photographed while killing dolphins and in Futo, where the drive fishery season starts September 1, they didn’t carry out a single hunt for the two weeks during which they were monitored. But on November 11, they drove about one hundred bottlenose dolphins into the harbor, where representatives from six Japanese dolphinariums chose the best-looking ones. Coalition member Sakae Hemmi of Elsa Nature Conservancy was able to document the capture. She reported that members of the captive dolphin industry yanked 19 dolphins out of the water and selected 14 that fulfilled the ideal criteria for captive dolphin swim programs and dolphin shows. One of the dolphins died from shock and was processed into meat for human consumption along with three of its pod members. Many dolphins were caught in the capture nets and in their struggles to disentangle themselves suffered severe injuries.

The Fishing Cooperative later reported that 80 dolphins were released, but an eyewitness questions this claim. Many pressing questions remain unanswered: How many of the dolphins had been injured so seriously that they had no chance of survival? And how many were in such a state of shock that they couldn’t find their way back to the open sea?

Live dolphins sold to aquaria bring a much higher profit than do dead dolphins processed into meat. By ordering dolphins from Futo, the dolphinariums enticed the fishermen to resume a practice they had not carried out since 1999. “The high value of dolphins for public display has added a new, high value driver to a despicable industry that would otherwise discontinue,” says One Voice’s Ric O’Barry.

This season, fishermen in Taiji have been given a permit to kill approximately 2,400 cetaceans of various species. On two occasions, representatives from local dolphinariums Dolphin Base, World Dolphin Resort, and Taiji Whale Museum were witnessed encouraging the dolphin hunt. Aided by the fishermen, dolphin handlers forced dolphins into shallow water and selected the ones they estimated to be of the desired “show quality.” The old, the blemished, and those still dependent on their mothers’ milk were butchered. Dolphin handlers hauled the selected dolphins away to steel cages in Taiji harbor. But the dolphins were still in shock and didn’t eat. One week after capture, they had to be force-fed.

Taiji City Hall has implemented laws banning photographers from climbing the mountain from which one can see the killing cove. Fishermen have tied barbed wire around trees used to climb to photograph the scene, and they have erected an enormous canvas wall at the top of the mountain to block the scene. They have even erected a large tarp across the entire cove, making it impossible to film the massacres from the air. A fisherman from the fishing village of Katsuura said that it costs the fishermen a lot of time and money to hide from cameras. “You are making their work extremely difficult,” he said, adding that media presence in Taiji has created a debate in nearby villages and that not everyone here supports the dolphin hunt.

The strategy is working. The slaughter of dolphins in Japan will continue for only as long as the fishermen are successful at keeping it a secret. Our team will keep returning to these remote fishing villages to document and expose the dolphin massacres. Visit our Web site for more information:
— Helene O’Barry, One Voice

You Make Our Work Possible

You Make Our Work Possible

We don’t have a paywall because, as a nonprofit publication, our mission is to inform, educate and inspire action to protect our living world. Which is why we rely on readers like you for support. If you believe in the work we do, please consider making a tax-deductible year-end donation to our Green Journalism Fund.

Get the Journal in your inbox.
Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

Subscribe Now

Get four issues of the magazine at the discounted rate of $20.