- Title: USA/JAPAN: Scientists call on Japanese government to ban dolphin drives hunts
- Date: 18th November 2006
- Summary: (W3) NEW YORK, NEW YORK (NOVEMBER 16, 2006) (REUTERS) (SOUNDBITE) (English) DR. DIANA REISS, MARINE MAMMAL SCIENTIST SAYING: "I would certainly hope they don't kill these highly sentient animals at all, but if they had to, they should at least do it humanely. At the very, at the very least."
- Embargoed: 3rd December 2006 12:00
- Topics: Environment / Natural World
- Reuters ID: LVABIY0YIWF7G7F86NHTT8WV30W7
- Story Text: Scientists are calling on Japan to stop dolphin drive hunts, citing them as a cruel and unjustified means of capturing and killing highly intelligent and mammals.
While dolphin hunting is illegal in most countries, the drive is a legal method of hunting dolphins in Japan, and has even been cited by some as a centuries-old tradition.
Close to one thousand dolphins are caught each year, most commonly, the Bottlenose dolphin and Risso's dolphin.
In Taiji, a small town in southern Japan, a drive was filmed just a few weeks ago. Video acquired by Reuters shows the animals driven into a bay that is blocked off by fishing boats and nets, preventing them from escaping.
Japanese fisherman lure dolphins and other small cetaceans by banging on rods that create a sonic barrier. Once the dolphins are corralled into a shallow bay, dolphin trainers in the water wrestle the dolphins until they are able to successfully tie ropes around the mammals. The animals are then tied up by their tails and drawn in by fishing boats. Once they reach the shallow waters of the beach, the dolphins are restrained under a large blue tent, where trainers take their measurements and select a few animals to be sold to aquariums in Japan and China. The rest are taken to slaughter. The meat is sold and is said to be eaten only locally, while the rest is used for fertilizer and pet food.
After international outcry followed the release of photos taken in 1999 of the capture and slaughter of dolphins, tents have been put up to prevent unwanted attention from the drive.
Dr. Diana Reiss, a professor at Columbia University and Hunter College in New York and the Director of Marine Mammal Research at the New York Aquarium, says the hunts very clearly inflict pain on the animals and should be stopped immediately.
"What we see is large brained animals, complex brains, animals that are highly intelligent and highly complex with complex families and social ties, being slaughtered in the most inhumane way possible. These animals are eviscerated alive. And the footage that's been coming out of Japan shows animals being hoisted by their tails, which inflicts terrible pain, animals being ripped apart alive in front of their infants, in front of each other. These animals are aware, they're conscious of their surroundings. They're highly intelligent, much like the great ape -- they're really what we call the cognitive cousins of great apes," said Dr. Reiss.
Dr. Reiss and a consortium of scientists and zoo and aquarium professionals issued a report condemning the hunts, citing scientific studies on the mental, emotional and social characteristics of dolphins. Members of the group have met with ambassadors at the Japanese Embassy as well as representatives of the Japanese fisheries, hoping scientific evidence on the intelligence of the mammals would influence Japanese policy on the hunts.
Yet, their pleas have not been heard. Reiss hopes the emergence of the new video and international outcry will help the scientific community influence Japanese policy.
Dr. Paul Boyle, a Marine scientist and the Chairman and CEO of the Ocean Project, says his Japanese colleagues have been reluctant to speak about about the "brutal" and "inhumane" killings, because they receive significant government funding. Boyle's group The Ocean Project (www.actfordolphins.org) is trying to garner support for a petition they plan to present to the Japanese Prime Minister, condemning what they term as "the brutal and inhumane practice of dolphin drive hunts".
Boyle says the scientific evidence is clear - dolphins are aware of their surroundings and feel extreme pain during this means of capture and killing.
"There are scientists that demonstrated that dolphins develop culture. That they hand down culture from generation to generation. Things that are learned are passed on. So there are deep implications when you're just willy nilly just removing animals, killing, slaughtering them and removing them from a culture that is well developed," said Boyle.
Reiss echoes Boyle's sentiments, and adds that the method used by the fisherman to kill the animals is an extremely painful one. If the animals have to be killed -- the government should at least ensure more humane techniques are used.
Reiss explains that the animals are stabbed behind their blow hole with a knife, which is intended to destroy the brain. She points out, however, that this process isn't efficient because a dolphin's anatomy is such that they are not rendered unconscious -- rather they are only stabbed and don't die immediately.
Japan's Fisheries Agency spokesman, Hideki Moronuki, says that being surrounded by the sea, Japan has traditionally looked to the ocean as a resource for food, including dolphins. He says western scientists are too sentimental when it comes to dolphins.
"I think their notion that animals having a certain level of intelligence must not be eaten and animals that are below that level can be eaten is wrong," said Moronuki.
Public opinion in Tokyo seems to be mixed on the issue. Resident Takumi Innami told Reuters he does not believe that dolphins should be hunted for their meat.
"Dolphins are not something to eat. They are something that we are healed watching," said Innami.
17-year-old Aika Koyachi, said she doesn't eat dolphins, but doesn't believe that the hunt should be banned.
"I only watch dolphins. But those who eat dolphins look at them as provisions. And you can not simply deny those people. It's the same argument with whales," said Koyachi.
Ric O'Barry, a marine mammal expert with the Earth Island Institute, an environmental non-governmental organization, has dedicated his life to protecting dolphins. O'Barry is the former trainer of Flipper, the famed star of the 1960s TV series. 67-year-old O'Barry became an activist after Flipper died and has dedicated his life to try to stop the drives. He spends several months a year in Japan and is accompanied by his wife and two-year-old daughter, who are also protesting the drives.
While in Japan, O'Barry has spent a significant portion of his time in Taiji, and says the villagers claim that the hunt is a cull meant to protect their fishing grounds from dolphins that they consider "pests" as they eat the same fish the fishermen eat and destroy their nets. Furthermore, O'Barry adds that the Japanese often compare the dolphin drives to killing cows or pigs, a comparison that he believe is not right. .
"You don't terrorize cows, pigs and chickens before you slaughter them. But the dolphins, if you look at the footage carefully, you'll see that babies and the old ones are left behind. They're lost during this drive and there's a lot of collateral damage. You see dead dolphins floating around this bay," said O'Barry.
Dolphin drives are practiced in only a few other countries, such as the Solomon Islands, the Faroe Islands and illegally in Peru.
Reiss, Boyle and other scientists from universities across the United States and the World Association of Zoos and Aquariums say they will keep their campaign going and hope to raise the ire of the international community until the drives are stopped.
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