Marine conservationists have claimed that fishermen in the Japanese town of Taiji are dumping the corpses of small dolphins out at sea so that they can fill their annual quota with larger, more profitable specimens.
The conservation organisationSea Shepherdreleasedimageson Thursday of a juvenile Risso’s dolphin it claimed had washed ashore in Taiji after being thrown overboard by local fishermen, who began theirannual dolphin huntlast month.
The group said it believed the dolphin had been among a pod of 18 to 20Risso’s dolphinsdriven to the shore and killed earlier this week. It claimed the dolphin had been discarded so it would not be counted as part of the fishermen’s annual quota.
David Hance, a Sea Shepherd campaigner, claimed that fishermen have been loading dead juvenile dolphins on to boats and concealing them with tarpaulin, before taking them out to the open sea and dumping them.
“These dolphins were slaughtered, just like their families, and should be counted in this season’s death toll,” Hance said.
Last year, Taiji’s fishermen caught 937 dolphins – well short of their quota of 1,971; this season’s quota for all species of dolphin caught off the town’s coast has been set at 1,873.
Sea Shepherd’s founder, Paul Watson, blamed the deaths on the lucrative international trade in live dolphins; the most attractive and profitable specimens are selected from the total haul, with the remainder slaughtered and sold in Japanfor their meat.
“Until there is no longer a demand for captive dolphins and whales around the world or until the world steps up and demands an end to the brutal hunts from the government ofJapan, cetaceans will continue to die in Taiji,” Watson said.
Many of the best animals are sold to aquariums and sea parks, despite mounting pressure to end the international trade in dolphins.
Citing data from Japan’s fisheries research agency and other statistics, Kyodo News reported earlier this year that 760 live dolphins had been sold in Japan between September 2009 and August 2014. Another 354 were sold to 12 other countries, including 216 to China.
A fully trained dolphin on public display can be worth more than $100,000 (£65,000), compared with as little as $100 (£65) if butchered for meat.
In May, aquariums in Japanvoted to stop buying live dolphinsfrom Taiji after being threatened with expulsion from the World Association of Zoos and Aquariums (Waza).
The vote to stay in Waza prompted Taiji’s whaling museum, which keeps live dolphins, to quit the Japanese branch of the association in protest.
Waza had earlier suspended its Japanese members after the Guardian revealed that the organisation had beentargeted in a court actionlaunched byAustralia for Dolphins. The group accused the global body of being complicit in the infamous hunts by failing to take action against Japanese aquariums.
Taiji fishermen say they will continue to hunt dolphins, despite the decision by Japanese aquariums to stop buying the animals. “We will never stop,” Yoshifumi Kai, of the Taiji fisheries cooperative, told reporters last month.
“We used to harpoon dolphins, but that was several decades ago. Now we sever the spinal cord in a moment and there is not much blood.”
Taiji gained international prominence in 2009 as the subject of the Oscar-winning documentaryThe Cove.
The fishermen’s use of the drive method, in which pods of dolphins are herded to the shoreline before being killed, has attracted widespread criticism, including from the US ambassador to Japan,Caroline Kennedy.