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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.