‘Scientific evidence…supports the conclusion that the drive hunts are inflicting pain and suffering on animals that are intelligent, sentient, and socially complex’
Diana Reiss, Ph.D. and Lori Marino, Ph.D.

What happens during the Taiji dolphin hunts?

The annual dolphin drive hunt in a small village called Taiji, in Japan, is one of the most controversial dolphin hunts in the world. 

Every year from September to March, dolphin hunters find pods of dolphins and other small whales, bang on large metal poles to frighten and herd the dolphins into the cove. The hunters net off the area, sometimes leaving pods exhausted and trapped overnight.

Once the dolphins are trapped, they are separated into groups based on their age, size, and species. They are selected based on whether they are heading for a life in captivity, or their life will be cut short and they will be slaughtered. 

Source Robert Gilhooly

Why do the Taiji dolphin hunts continue?

The Taiji dolphin drive hunts continue because it is profitable to do so.
There are two economic drivers for these hunts.

Source Sami Chau Unsplash


The ‘pretty’ dolphins are sold to marine parks and spend a life of misery in captivity.

Source Robert Gilhooly


The remaining dolphins are slaughtered and sold for human consumption.

How many dolphins have suffered in the Taiji dolphin hunts?


dolphins & small whales have been trapped into a life of captivity from the Taiji hunts since 2012


dolphins & small whales have been slaughtered in the Taiji hunts since 2012

How are dolphins slaughtered?

There are several methods used to capture and kill dolphins during the Taiji hunt. One of the most common methods is to drive a metal rod into the dolphin’s spinal cord, which causes paralysis and death. Another method involves cutting the dolphin’s throat and allowing them to bleed out.

Source Robert Gilhooly

Why don’t hunters use more humane killing methods?

The Taiji dolphin hunts have been criticised for the inhumane methods used to kill dolphins, which can cause prolonged suffering and distress. The reason the hunters do not use more humane methods of killing which might be available – such as the use of anaesthesia before death – is simply cost. Their method of killing might be the cruellest, but it is the cheapest.

Source Robert Gilhooly

What is the connection between the Taiji dolphin hunts and the sale of live dolphins?

The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) trade database shows that many countries are still buying live dolphins from Japan.

Dolphin hunts Countries that have imported dolphins from Japan Source CITES Trade Database


Over 30 aquariums in Japan are also permitted to buy dolphins from the drive hunts.

Sadly, after being ripped from the wild, these dolphins are at times kept in appalling conditions for the rest of their lives.

What is the connection between the Taiji dolphin hunts and the sale of dolphin meat?

The connection between the sale of dolphin meat and the Taiji dolphin hunts has led to international criticism because of the possible impacts to human health. 

Dolphins can accumulate high levels of toxins like mercury in their bodies, which can be harmful to humans’ health if consumed regularly. The World Health Organisation considers mercury to be one of the top ten chemicals of major public health concern.

Many dolphin meat samples were tested by a Japanese laboratory. These samples contained mercury that is much higher than 0.4ppm – which is the amount recommended as safe for human consumption by Japanese regulations. 

The same dolphin meat samples were tested for methyl mercury. Methylmercury is considered the most poisonous among the mercury compounds. People are exposed to methylmercury when they eat marine life that contains this compound.  The results showed that almost every sample contained methylmercury at levels higher than 0.3ppm – which is the amount recommended as safe for human consumption by Japanese regulations. 


Despite this, dolphin meat continues to be sold with very little regulation or testing – putting people’s health at serious risk. If we can stop the sale of dolphin meat, it could save hundreds of dolphins from slaughter each year and stop people being exposed to harmful toxins through food.

Why are the hunts legal?

The waters in which the Taiji dolphin drive hunts occur are within Japan’s national jurisdiction. International law gives coastal states sovereignty over their territorial sea. This means that Japan has the exclusive right to exploit the marine creatures in these waters.

Unlike some other marine species, dolphins are not covered under the International Whaling Commission moratorium on commercial whaling. Despite scientific evidence pointing towards the high intelligence and complex social structures of dolphins, they are not protected under the same regulations as some other marine mammals.

This means the Japanese Government can issue permits to hunt dolphins. The Taiji dolphin drive hunts are authorised by the Japan Fisheries Agency to a small group of fishermen. A catch quota is set each season. The 2022/23 quota was 1,849 dolphins and small whales. Most other people in Taiji and in Japan do not having anything to do with the hunts.  

Source Robert Gilhooly

Our achievements

United with thousands of dolphin defenders globally, we've achieved notable milestones in the fight to end the Taiji dolphin hunts. Check out our biggest wins.

Source Richard Gilhooly

Disrupting the dolphin meat trade

To stop the slaughter of dolphins for meat, we’re taking action against companies peddling dolphin meat. We have already successfully shut down a key supplier of dolphin meat on Yahoo! Japan after our investigation revealed mercury levels in one meat sample were shockingly 97.5 times beyond Japan’s regulatory recommended limit.

Source Pagie Page Unsplash

Combatting Taiji dolphin hunts

We tackled the World Association of Zoos and Aquariums (WAZA) as a way to disrupt the cruel dolphin hunts in Taiji, Japan. Garnering support through legal action and a petition signed by thousands, we persuaded 62 Japanese aquariums under WAZA to stop buying dolphins from Taiji – a groundbreaking achievement!