What Exactly Happens in Taiji’s Infamous Cove?

Written by on January 29, 2014 in Marine Life, Whales & Dolphins

The annual dolphin drive has been making the headlines often lately. Here’s a short summary of everything you need to know about it, without any of the graphic images or videos that would make a lot of people close their browsers.

Driving the dolphins into The Cove. Photo courtesy of TheCoveMovie.com.

Driving the dolphins into The Cove. Photo courtesy of TheCoveMovie.com.

What?
Between 1,500 and 2,000 dolphins are lured into a secluded cove during the annual dolphin drive. A select few are sold to aquariums; the rest are slaughtered and their meat is sold in schools and supermarkets.

Where?
The Cove in Taiji, a small fishing town in Japan’s Wakayama Prefecture.

When?
September through February.

Ric O'Barry holding dolphin meat.

Ric O’Barry holding dolphin meat. Photo courtesy of SaveJapanDolphins.org.

Why?
Profit and demand. Unlike what many would have us believe, the answer is not tradition. In a recent interview, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said “The dolphin fishing that takes place in Taiji town is an ancient fishing practice deeply rooted in their culture,” but according to Taiji’s own documents, that’s just not true. An Earth Island news release sums it all up: the annual hunts only began in 1969. They are not part of a long tradition that defines Japanese culture. They are driven by profit and demand. Captive dolphin facilities around the world continue to purchase dolphins from the Cove. Last year, nearly 250 dolphins were taken into captivity. In a 2006 Whale and Dolphin Conservation report, you can see just how involved aquariums are in this annual drive.

How?
Several fishing vessels (banger boats) will locate a pod and drive them into the cove with extremely loud, distracting noises. They are kept in the cove until all of the dolphins deemed good enough to sell are sold, and then they kill the rest. In 2010, officials announced a new killing method that supposedly reduced the time it took for the dolphin to die, but it’s not exactly humane. A 2013 study on the science of the drives found that the methods used to kill the dolphins inflict “disturbing levels of physical trauma” and that “these methods would not be acceptable under any international animal welfare standards.” Last weekend in an article for CNN, Carl Safina describes the new method, which involves destroying the spinal cord. Safina’s description gets graphic so read with caution.

What can I do about it?
Most importantly, don’t buy a ticket to a dolphin show or any establishment that holds dolphins captive. Here’s a great summary of all your options.  For even more, check out this list from Oceanic Preservation Society.

Dolphins performing at Ocean Park in Hong Kong.

Dolphins performing at Ocean Park in Hong Kong. Photo credit: Andreas. via photopin cc.

Copyright © 2014 by Marine Science Today, a publication of Marine Science Today LLC.

About the Author

About the Author: Emily Tripp is the Publisher and Editor of MarineScienceToday.com. She holds marine science and biology degrees from the University of Miami's Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science and a Master of Advanced Studies degree in Marine Biodiversity and Conservation from Scripps Institution of Oceanography. When she's not writing about marine science, she's probably running around outside or playing with her dog. .

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