The capture of a large pod of 56-58 Risso's dolphins yesterday inched the 2012/13 dolphin drive season closer to being the highest season for dolphin captures in the last four years.
With 1,209 dolphins driven in so far and two more months to go, this year's hunts could end up topping figures from the past three seasons.
In 2009/10, 1,242 dolphins were pushed into the Cove, followed by 1,297 in 2010/11, and 848 last year. Yet although this season is hauntingly close to being the worst in four years, not all of the dolphins have been slaughtered. Compared to the 2009/10 season when 90 percent of the dolphins driven in were slaughtered, around 58 percent of the animals captured this year have been killed.
In two other areas however, figures have risen significantly -- the number of cetaceans taken into captivity and the number of dolphins released. In 2010/11, 181 animals were set free as opposed to just 48 last year. This season, 26 percent -- or 320, have been released so far.
But for many dolphin advocates, the most disconcerting number, and one that has risen considerably, is the number of dolphins taken for captivity. With the demand for captive cetaceans rising, 219 marine mammals have been been seized for sale this season -- a staggering 18 percent of the total take. This is double that of 2009, more than double the 7.5 percent in 2010/11, and triple the 6 percent seen last year.
The one area that Taiji fishermen are unable to control is the species of dolphin driven into the Cove. Captive and kill rates are always dictated by species. Specific types of dolphins are more desirable to the cetacean display industry than others, and are therefore worth more. These 'money dolphins' are specifically the bottlenose species and to some extent, the Pacific white-sided and Pantropical spotted dolphins.
Less attractive dolphins such as the Risso's, or the 'hard to keep' striped species, are inevitably slaughtered. The first are deemed not appealing enough for display, and the latter being deep sea dolphins, do not thrive in captivity. Figures from several seasons support this statement.
According to statistics provided by online marine mammal database -- Ceta-Base.com
, of 337 bottlenose dolphins captured in the Cove this year, 145 animals have been consigned to captivity for eventual sale. Yet of 278 Risso's dolphins, 226 have been slaughtered -- 81 percent. Only 38 have been released with 14 earmarked for captivity.
In the case of striped dolphins, the numbers are even more dire. Only two of 234 cetaceans captured were held for captivity. The remainder were all slaughtered.
Where do the dolphins go?
From capturing dolphins to training them, the town of Taiji and the Isana Fisheries Union supplies aquariums and marine mammal parks around the globe. Just a few months ago for example, several bottlenose dolphins were sold to Saudi Arabia for $43,000 each.
Many of the dolphins are sent to Japanese facilities but export of the animals is also growing. Between 2009-11, China was the biggest importer
of dolphins -- 117 dolphins purchased in three years (2009; 2010 and 2011). The Republic of Korea also imported 17, and the Philippines, four.
But more and more newcomers are appearing at the table all the time. In the past three years alone, Thailand has entered the picture along with Saudi Arabia; Ukraine; Egypt and the Republic of Georgia. China and Vietnam exported another nine dolphins in Jan. 2012. Taiji cetaceans in the past have also been purchased by SeaWorld and the U.S. Navy Marine Mammal Program.
More data on where Taiji dolphins are sent to is available in Tracking Taiji: Live Capture & Export Data from Drive Fisheries
For Isana Fisheries Union, the profit earned from the sale of a live and trained dolphin versus the sale of dolphin meat is substantially higher. So much so, that the dynamics of the dolphin drive is shifting away from sustenance to live sales.
Unfortunately, with new aquariums being proposed and built because of public demand, the Taiji dolphin drives are not likely to end any time soon. Fueled by consumer-attended dolphin shows and a decrease in dolphin meat consumption, there is little motivation for Taiji Town to end the hunts.
By capturing just one species this season -- the 145 bottlenose dolphins seized to be trained and sold, Isana Fisheries Union has already netted upwards of 6.2 million dollars. What those people who purchase tickets don't realize, is that for every single dolphin taken into captivity this year, three more animals were slaughtered.
With the focus of the hunts in transition, the burden of responsibility is now firmly shifting onto the shoulders of those who attend dolphin shows and engage in dolphin interaction programs.
In other words, if you buy a ticket, then you are helping to fund one of the largest mass cetacean slaughters on the planet.
Don't buy a ticket, and the demand goes away.
About the hunts
The Taiji dolphin drives were featured in the Academy Award-winning documentary The Cove
. The drive season runs between September to March every year. Dolphins are pushed into a natural inlet by up to 12 motorized vessels called drive boats.
Once netted off, the dolphins are either slaughtered for meat or consigned to captivity and sold. Documentation and Taiji town records show the drive hunts only date back to the 1970s. Thus they are not considered tradition based.
This year's quota is 2,089 total animals from seven species: Bottlenose, striped, Pacific white-sided, Pantropical spotted, Risso's dolphins, false killer whales and short-finned pilot whales. The only species not yet captured this year is false killer whales.
For further details and the latest news on the dolphin hunts, visit the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society Cove Guardian
website or Save Japan Dolphins.org