National Geographic News

Tim Zimmermann

for National Geographic

Published January 21, 2014

The yearly Taiji dolphin hunt, in which fishermen from the small Japanese village round up pods of dolphins for sale to marine parks and for slaughter for meat, has been a source of global controversy since the Oscar-winning documentary The Cove drew attention to the event in 2009.

Despite the notoriety of the Taiji dolphin drives, which take place from September through April and have drawn condemnation from animal welfare groups and from some governments, Taiji fishermen continue to capture or kill more than 1,000 dolphins a year.

Last weekend, one of the largest dolphin roundups in recent years drew global media attention. An estimated 200-plus bottlenose dolphins were driven by the Taiji fishermen into their shoreside nets.

A map locating Taiji in Japan.
NG Staff

The hunt sparked widespread condemnation. Among others, Caroline Kennedy, newly installed U.S. ambassador to Japan, expressed her opposition via Twitter.

Over the course of four days, the Taiji fishermen separated and selected 52 dolphins for sale into captivity, killed 41 for sale as meat, then drove the surviving pod members back out to sea, according to the dolphin activist group Sea Shepherd Conservation Society.

Despite the fishermen's use of tarps and other screening strategies, Sea Shepherd and some news organizations obtained photographs and video of the hunt, which helped fuel global response.

Hunt at Taiji Cove

Photo of fishermen hunting bottlenose dolphins with boats and nets.
PHOTOGRAPH BY ADRIAN MYLNE, REUTERS

Taiji fishermen use boats, nets, and swimmers to select bottlenose dolphins for sale to marine parks. The weekend roundup saw 52 dolphins removed from the 200-plus dolphins herded into the cove and sold to marine park brokers, according to Sea Shepherd.

In Japan, some 50 aquariums keep around 600 dolphins and take many of the Taiji dolphins, with business also coming from many aquariums abroad. And with growing demand for dolphins from China, which already has 35 aquariums displaying dolphins, the sale of live dolphins from the Taiji drive hunt is lucrative business.

Netted for Removal

Photo of a bottlenose dolphin emerging from water as an apparently younger dolphin is netted for removal.
PHOTOGRAPH BY SEA SHEPHERD/EPA

A bottlenose dolphin emerges from the water as an apparently younger dolphin is netted for removal. Scientists have long wondered why hunted dolphins do not fight back as members of their pod are segregated and taken away, but some believe that the stress of the drive and capture operations could play a role.

Rare Albino Calf

Photo of a rare albino dolphin being herded into nets by fishermen.
PHOTOGRAPH BY SEA SHEPHERD, EPA

A rare albino dolphin calf was allegedly among the large group of dolphins herded into the nets by fishermen. This calf was reportedly one of the first dolphins removed for sale to marine parks.

Selection Amid Roiling Waters

Photo of Taiji fishermen using their skiff and its outboard motor to herd dolphins.
PHOTOGRAPH BY SEA SHEPHERD/EPA

The waters of the bay are roiled as Taiji fishermen use their skiff and its outboard motor to herd and separate dolphins from the larger group.

Pulled Aboard, Sold Abroad

Photo of Fishermen grabbing dolphins in Taiji Cove.
PHOTOGRAPH BY SEAS SHEPHERD, EPA

To remove a dolphin from the pod, swimmers manhandle it alongside a skiff, where it will be pulled aboard or held alongside and taken to shore. Taiji dolphins have been sold to buyers in locales as far ranging as Turkey, Dubai, and Russia.

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127 comments
julie Keeney
julie Keeney

Well, from what I understand, the ticking timebomb Fukushima will take care of everything.  Supposedly, as the burning nuclear meltdown keeps burning down into the ground further and further, it will hit their water table, which will start to build steam and pressure, so that before they can worry about their contaminated water table, that puppy will blow, coming straight up through the hole it burned, blasting through all their stored spent rods, which reside in the top floors of their nuclear silo buildings, and are now even more dangerous than they were before they were used, and that will blast all of that most dangerous stuff we can create, all over the world.  Way to go, Japan! 

Eric Guerrero
Eric Guerrero

Ahhhhh....... Japan, the land of the rising sunrise with an extensive and beautiful culture yet they guard a dark secret. the goverment has been hiding what happens in Taiji for god knows how long. it was the time to show what really happened in Japan. We should all thanks Rick O Barry for letting us know the truth. And i am greatful Japan wont be able to illegaly hunt whales anymore!!!

Marcos Penteado
Marcos Penteado

Disgraceful how they only see these sentinent creatures as opportunities for short term profit, and see cruelty and death as easy means for this monetary gain.

Yossi BenDor
Yossi BenDor

Those people are animals!

How they kill those dolphins!

Need to talk immediately with Japan government to stop immediately those killings!

Need confiscate truism to Japan till stop those killings also to whales!

Hoomon Imoni
Hoomon Imoni

very soon there will be no more dolphins, no wales, no more wild life, few sick and lonesome in captive around the world. not even then man would leash his greed. there should always be something we express our evil upon. human, animals, soon enough ufo :p, i'm not sure who said " the best evidence of the existence of intelligent extraterrestrial life is that they haven't contacted us."

Sunday WoodZ
Sunday WoodZ

Is that real that aquariums of China is involved in the dealing of dolphins?

Tawhid B.
Tawhid B.

The problem is the people who run that operation worship money, and they will do anything to get it.

Bel Knowles
Bel Knowles

They claim this is 'traditional', which is a lie. Fishing was a tradition here, but this capture of dolphin for sale to aquariums has only been going on for a few decades! The animals that aren't 'attractive enough' for display and performance, are butchered as a by-product!

The meat is unsafe for regular human consumption, due to contamination. Approximately  fifty percent of dolphin sold to aquariums, die within 2 years. So there is absolutely NO excuse for this foul and cruel business at all!

C. Chatburn
C. Chatburn

It's utterly horrific to hear about these atrocities, it's barbaric. What does this say about humans? About us?

mary harless
mary harless

I HOPE THIS WILL HAPPEN TO THEM AND ALOT MORE WORSE. THESE POOR DOLPHINS DOESNT DESERVE SUCH TORMENT AND SUFFERING THAT THEY ENDURE. AND I HOPE SOON THAT THEY WILL DEDORE THIS AND ITS ONE HUNDRED TIMES NO THOUSAND TIMES WORSE THAN THESE POOR INNOCENT CREATURES ENDURES. THEIR SUCH GENTLE AND CARING CREATURES THAT THEY JUST WANT TO HAVE FUN AND ENJOY LIFE. DENMARK, JAPAN, AND WHOEVER DOES THIS SHOULD BE PUT TO DEATH INSTANTLY. SORRY PPL WHO READS THIS BUT THATS HOW I FEEL.

Abby de Roche
Abby de Roche

Strange that the barbaric way the dolphins are slaughtered has been left out, though that is probably the most important part of this story.  For more info there is an offshoot of The Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, called "The Cove Guardians".  This is their link:  http://www.seashepherd.org/cove-guardians/

CP Pang
CP Pang

A country that never apologizes, even after second World War. Brutally hunt down dolphins and whales. 

Cher Tierney
Cher Tierney

There are no limits to man's barbaric cruelty!

Rasit Barut
Rasit Barut

Removing these massacres all the Japanese voice is the killer. They can also get in without thinking of the sea, the sea and earthquakes with my tusina is back from the Japanese. I apologize if this review is harsh. even able to create a marching ants that live, desperately upset me is to take the lives of other creatures.

This Stupid
This Stupid

I think it is fine for them to capture and sell but why do you have to slaughter them? Why can't you just eat regular meat? Why eat such an majestic animal?

John Jay
John Jay

I'm no expert but perhaps it's part of their culture. Sounds like an annual thing. It also sounds like this dolphin business is regulated. Again i'm no  expert but I'm under the impression the bottle-nose dolphins are not necessarily rare. Before make judgments it's good to look at the facts.

Claire Harris
Claire Harris

I HOPE THEY DROWN KARMA NEEDS TO WIPE THEM OFF THE PLANET NO ROOM FOR THERE INBREAD WRONG TURN FREAKS MADE ME CRY IT WAS THAT SAD TO SEE EVERY ANIMAL THAT DIES THEY SHOULD DIE THEY WOULD BE GONE NOW I WISH

Mark Meyer
Mark Meyer

They have done this for thousands of years.  Why do liberal fools insist on telling everyone what is right and wrong.  Thankfully there are not so many ignorant countries like America that kowtow to all of their nonsense.

Wei Ji
Wei Ji

@Sunday WoodZ  i actually dont really think so. i have to say that it seems that media especially american media really dont want to miss any chance to try to get China involved into anything negative.

Wei Ji
Wei Ji

@Sunday WoodZ  i actually dont really think so. it really seems like that the global media dont want to miss any chance to try to get China involved into anything negative. 

Maryann B.
Maryann B.

@This Stupid

Cetaceans are not domestic animals.They are not livestock.Dolphin meat is not fit for human consumption due to high mercury levels.The only reason to herd these extremely gentle, highly social, intelligent animals into the killing cove is to brutally separate the youngest and the prettiest to sell to the highest paying bidder, and to kill the rest using barbaric methods that are not even permitted in pig slaughterhouses in Japan.So a very small group of "fisherman" are basically looting the ocean - in a national park -for their own profit and greed, with the full knowledge and support of the local police and coast guard who all get a cut of the action.It has nothing to do with culture and tradition.This is a highly profitable bloodsport.Watch the live streams of the daily slaughter if you can stomach it.They are horrific.Research Taiji, Sea Shepards, Ric O'Barry or Hardy Jones to understand what is actually happening in Taiji.

What Ricky
What Ricky

@This StupidRegular meat will be different depending on culture and tradition. there are people eat dogs, cats, kangaroos. rabbits and foie gras. Shouldn't judge other people by your background.

What Ricky
What Ricky

@This StupidIt is culture, regular meat will be different depending on culture and tradition. Please try to know other culture, there are people eat dogs, cats, kangaroos. Shouldn't judge other people by your background.

Bel Knowles
Bel Knowles

@John Jay 
Just wanted to invite you to research for yourself just how 'traditional' this practice is? I think that you'll find that hunting dolphin in this region is a relatively new 'tradition' of a few decades! These animals are likely to be as intelligent as us, with more developed brains in the areas of bonding and emotional control.

The way that they are captured and killed is particularly brutal...having a metal rod hammered into their spine, infront of each other. The hole is then plugged with a wooden plug, to try to conceal  that they bleed to death for a period of  up to half  an hour.

I also don't think that 'culture' can be allowed to be a justification for cruelty in 2014. And yes...there are many other countries that are  responsible for animal torture too... and these also need challenging.

This Stupid
This Stupid

@John Jay 

I think that it is ok for them to take them and sell them but why would they eat them, can't they just eat regular meat instead of poor dolphin meat?!! :(

This Stupid
This Stupid

@John Jay 

I think that it is ok for them to take them and sell them but why would they eat them, can't they just eat regular meat instead of poor dolphin meat?!! :(

Bonnie West
Bonnie West

@John Jay Expertise, regulations, and population numbers are irrelevant. Wrong is wrong. Murder is morally incorrect. Slavery is morally incorrect. ALL sentient beings deserve the right to life, liberty and bodily integrity. Those are the facts.

Bel Knowles
Bel Knowles

@Mark Meyer

This particular tradition of dolphin capture is only a few decades old... driven by the worldwide demand for animals to display in aquariums.

Call me a 'liberal fool'...but to me condoning the NEEDLESS brutal torture and suffering of a sentient animal, for nothing but money...is wrong.

Maybe we shouldn't be calling for an end to human slavery, abuse and torture either? After all...what right does any one have to say what's right and wrong, following your logic? Maybe we shouldn't even attempt to have any laws or treaties...because that's just one person inflicting their morality onto others?

To me, protection for the weak and the voiceless is a moral duty in a civilized society. But maybe in your eyes, the weak should just accept their fate in a cruel and ammoral world?

karen allman
karen allman

@Mark Meyer  From Sakae Hemmi of the Elsa Nature Conservancy in

Japan>>

”The history of dolphin hunting in Taiji is short.

According to The History of Taiji, edited and published by Taiji

town in 1979, the first recorded dolphin drive was in 1933, with subsequent

hunts occurring in 1936 and 1944. It was not until 1969 that dolphin drives

have been conducted on a large scale. The history of the dolphin drives spans

not so-called 400 years, but a mere 45. Furthermore, in 1969, the main goal of

the dolphin drive was to capture pilot whales as prized showpieces for the

Taiji Whale Museum. In other words, the dolphin drive was purely for profit,

having nothing to do with cultural history.” it has to do with GREED 

Amanda E.
Amanda E.

@Mark Meyer  Really? "Thousands of years"? Do your research. They can hide behind the word "tradition"- but it's NOT.. The meat isn't healthy, and if they NEEDED to do this (which they don't), they could at least make it HUMANE. 

Maryann B.
Maryann B.

@What Ricky@This Stupid

Cetaceans are not domestic animals.They are not livestock.Dolphin meat is not fit for human consumption due to high mercury levels.The only reason to herd these extremely gentle, highly social, intelligent animals into the killing cove is to brutally separate the youngest and the prettiest to sell to the highest paying bidder, and to kill the rest using barbaric methods that are not even permitted in pig slaughterhouses in Japan.So a small group of "fisherman" are basically looting the ocean - in a national park -for their own profit and greed, with the full knowledge and support of the local police and coast guard who all get a cut of the action.It has nothing to do with culture and tradition.This is a highly profitable bloodsport.Watch the live streams of the daily selection process and slaughter if you can stomach it.They are horrific.Research Taiji, Sea Shepards, Ric O'Barry or Hardy Jones to understand what is actually happening in Taiji.

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