Op-Ed: Bottlenose dolphins and pilot whales await fate in Taiji Cove

Posted Dec 2, 2012 by Elizabeth Batt
Two pods of cetaceans are awaiting their fate after being driven into Taiji cove last night. A pod of pilot whales and a pod of bottlenose dolphins were netted in two separate drives.
The pod of 10-20 bottlenose dolphins were the first to be driven into the cove early last evening. Once secured, drive boats returned to the ocean to assist other boats that were simultaneously driving in a second pod of 10-20 pilot whales.
Sea Shepherd Conservation Society (SSCS) Cove Guardians -- who livestreamed the drives via said that both pods included mothers and calves who were not doing well. On the SSCS Cove Guardian Facebook page, they reported:
The juveniles in the pod of bottlenose dolphins were exhausted and looked extremely unwell -- floating on their backs for minutes at a time with their mothers at their sides. When the pilot whales were finally secured within the cove, they frantically threw their bodies onto jagged rocks in a desperate bid for freedom.
According to statistics provided at, with the capture of these pods, the number of dolphins driven into the Cove since Sept. 1 will top 500 marine mammals. The season runs until March 31 and has an established quota of 2,089 total animals from seven species.
The dolphin drives, featured in the Academy Award-winning documentary The Cove, are conducted by a small group of fishermen with just 12 boats from the Wakayama Prefecture of Japan. Last year, 848 dolphins from eight species were driven into the cove, 719 of them were slaughtered.
Isana Fisheries Union (ISU) profits from the dolphin drives in two ways. First, the meat of slaughtered dolphins is sold for human consumption, even though it contains high levels of mercury and other pollutants. Second and of greatest profit for the Union, is to sell the dolphins to marine mammals parks around the globe, either trained or untrained.
This screenshot captured by Sayaka Nakamura is from the Japanese Customs database, and lists seven cetaceans transported from Taiji. Six were exported to Saudi Arabia and one cetacean was exported to Hong Kong in October 2012. Nakamura wrote:
Cetaceans exported to Saudi Arabia were priced at 3.5 million yen ($43,750) each, which is average price for dolphins sold abroad from Taiji (untrained dolphins are sold for 800,000 yen ($10,000) by Taiji fishermen). Circumstantial evidence suggests that these were the 6 bottlenose dolphins transported from Taiji in early October 2012.
Almost $44,000 for one dolphin is a hefty profit and clearly defines the motivating factor for the continuance of the drives. Not tradition (drives have only been taking place since the 70s), and not for sustenance, consumption of dolphin meat is actually very low.
In fact calculations based on statistics released by the Japan External Trade Organization (JETRO), showed the consumption of whale and dolphin meat is only about 1% that of pork, and accounts for less than 0.5 % of the total consumption of beef, pork, and fowl.
For the dolphins and pilot whales currently in the Cove, their fate has already been written. Later today, trainers from Dolphin Base (a holding facility in Taiji harbor), will raid the prime specimens from the bottlenose pod and confine them to sea pens near the Fisheries Union. They will be force fed until they transition from eating live fish to dead fish, and then will be trained and sold.
The remainder of the pod will either be released or slaughtered. Juvenile dolphins too young to survive without their mothers -- but not large enough to offer a substantial meat yield, will likely be dumped alone back at sea. It is a lingering death sentence but not one that the Fisheries Union will have to count as quota.
For the pilot whales held in the Cove, they will be handpicked for a different reason. The largest animals will be slaughtered for their meat, the smallest dumped back at sea. In three months the ISU has killed 129 pilot whales with just two consigned to captivity. Still 30 animals shy of their 161 quota for this season, fishermen will likely be selective in their choices, but the Cove will run red today.
Update 4:30 PM MST: Sea Shepherd Cove Guardians are reporting:
All pilot whales have been slaughtered, with the exception of 4 smaller whales dumped out to sea. Just returned to the cove and spotted a number of bottlenose dolphins that were cordoned off out of our line of sight this morning during the slaughter from above the killing cove! Looks like some may be selected for captivity, some may still be slaughtered ... the killers are busy with the butchering.
The bottlenose dolphins Cove Guardians said:
Have been left for yet another night of terror and starvation within the cove in Taiji -- their fate will be sealed tomorrow morning, as some will be slaughtered and some sold for a life of slavery in a dolphinarium somewhere around the world...
Dec 3: Nine bottlenose dolphins were taken into captivity. The remaining animals in the pod were slaughtered.