Dolphin hunting conflict, Taiji, Wakayama prefecture, Japan

During the six-month hunting season, hundreds of terrified dolphins are violently herded into a narrow cove. Most are slaughtered for meat — but scores of “good-looking” ones are captured and shipped off to aquariums.


Thousands of dolphins are slaughtered  during government- sanctioned oikomi (drive fisheries) in Japan as a whole. The disgusting killing at Taiji has been particularly condemned for many years.  In recent times, as The Japan Times (10/9/16 & 22/10/16)  put it, people of Taiji have been effectively demonized since the film “The Cove” made them internationally famous against their will. The animal rights group Earthisland's Dolphin Project, led by U.S. activist Ric O’Barry, tweeted as recently as 10 Sept. 2016 that as the current season started, about “12 to 15 Rissos dolphins were slaughtered in the cove.”  During the six-month hunting season, people from the town will corral hundreds of the mammals into a secluded bay and butcher them. The cruel scene was featured in the documentary The Cove drawing unwanted attention to the little coastal community. Environmental campaigners visit the town every year to watch the gruesome event and authorities have boosted their presence to prevent confrontations between locals and activists. The town hosts a “drive hunt” that forces dolphins into a cove where they are killed for meat. Some are spared and cruelly taken away for training as perfomers in Japan or abroad, fetching high prices. Taiji has become ground zero for activists who mean to protect dolphins. Inspired and sometimes led by former dolphin trainer Ric O’Barry, the star of “The Cove,” and the Sea Sheperd organization, also with support from Japanese organizations like ELSA, dozens of people come to Taiji during the autumn drive-hunt season to protest the killings. Taiji fishermen defend the hunt as a tradition. Taiji is a small town with a population of 3,500, they say that hunting dolphins and whales is crucial to the region’s economy. The dolphin captures and killings are done in the Yoshino Kumano Kokuritsu Koen, a national park. The Ministry of the Environment manages the area. Sea Shepherd says that Taiji cannot fall back on “tradition” because history shows that progress negates atrocious ideas. Morever, it is alleged  that high levels of mercury in dolphins captured in the cove makes  consumption of their meat a dangerous habit for the local people.

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Basic Data
NameDolphin hunting conflict, Taiji, Wakayama prefecture, Japan
Accuracy of LocationHIGH local level
Source of Conflict
Type of Conflict (1st level)Biodiversity conservation conflicts
Type of Conflict (2nd level)Establishment of reserves/national parks
Aquaculture and fisheries
Specific CommoditiesDolphins to be butchered for meat or also, some of them, for export for aquariums.
Project Details and Actors
Project DetailsDuring the six-month hunting season, hundreds of terrified dolphins are violently herded into a narrow cove. During the last 6-month season in Taiji (2015-16), the hunters killed 652 dolphins (while catching another 117 live dolphins to be brokered to aquariums around the world). (Mark Palmer, Earthisland). While the hunters maintain they are culling dolphin “pests” who eat too many fish, the meat market brings some money while the primary economic incentive for the Taiji drive hunts is the aquarium industry. Live dolphins sell for around $50,000, and this is what keeps the hunters in business (as argued by P. Singer and J. Sosnowski, Los Angeles Times, 6 Sept. 2016).
Type of PopulationRural
Potential Affected Population3,000 (locally)
Start Date1969
Relevant government actorsGovernment of Japan

Ministry of Fisheries

Ministry of Environment
Environmental justice organisations and other supporters-Sea Shepherd

-Earth Island Institute’s Dolphin Project

-Elsa Nature Conservancy (Japan’s oldest environmental group) "is working with Coalition members One Voice(France)and the Earth Island Institute (USA) to stop the cruel dolphin hunts in Japan. ELSA follows a peaceful and lawful strategy".
The Conflict and the Mobilization
Intensity of Conflict (at highest level)HIGH (widespread, mass mobilization, violence, arrests, etc...)
When did the mobilization beginIn REACTION to the implementation (during construction or operation)
Groups MobilizingInternational ejos
Social movements
Local scientists/professionals
Forms of MobilizationArtistic and creative actions (eg guerilla theatre, murals)
Creation of alternative reports/knowledge
Development of a network/collective action
Involvement of national and international NGOs
Lawsuits, court cases, judicial activism
Media based activism/alternative media
Official complaint letters and petitions
Public campaigns
Street protest/marches
Arguments for the rights of mother nature
Documentary films
Environmental ImpactsVisible: Biodiversity loss (wildlife, agro-diversity), Loss of landscape/aesthetic degradation, Other Environmental impacts
OtherLarge scale killing of dolphins
Health ImpactsPotential: Other Health impacts
OtherMercury ingestion
Socio-economic ImpactsPotential: Other socio-economic impacts
Project StatusIn operation
Pathways for conflict outcome / responseNegotiated alternative solution
Under negotiation
Fostering a culture of peace
Japan's government hinders international activists who defend the dolphins.
Development of AlternativesAfter legal action in 2015 from the advocacy group Australia for Dolphins and significant public pressure, the World Association of Zoos and Aquariums changed its policy and began to oppose the capture of cetaceans. To maintain membership in WAZA, all member aquariums had to agree not to buy dolphins from Taiji or any other drive hunt.
Do you consider this as a success?Not Sure
Why? Explain briefly.The trend is towards forbidding the dolphin hunt but not yet.
Sources and Materials

Feb. 14, 2007. The Japan Times. Eyewitness to slaughter in Taiji's killing coves. A gruesome fate befalls thousands of dolphins in Japan every year. By BOYD HARNELL (impressive article).
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The Japan Times states that killing dolphins is not a tradition, 1 Febr. 2014
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Protests in India: Protest held outside Sabarmati Ashram against slaughter of dolphins in Japan. Dec 21, 2015,
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Peter Singer and Jordan Sosnowski, Japan's notorious dolphin hunt is where the world's aquariums shop, Los Angeles Times, 6 Sept. 2016 (Singer is author of “Animal Liberation” and “Ethics in the Real World.” Sosnowski is advocacy director at Australia for Dolphins, associate fellow at the Oxford Centre for Animal Ethics.)
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The Guardian. First dolphins killed in Japan's annual Taiji hunt, 9/9/16
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22 Oct 2016, Taiji’s dolphin hunters have a new voice, by PHILIP BRASOR (The Japan Times)
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Media Links

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Will Japan Stop Whaling and Killing Dolphins in Time for the Tokyo Olympics? BY MARK J. PALMER – SEPTEMBER 13, 2016
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Star of dolphin-hunting film The Cove to be deported from Japan.

Ric O’Barry is accused of trying to enter the country using tourist visa to join campaign against slaughter of dolphins in Taiji.
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Elsa Nature Conservancy is a Japanese organization, founded in 1976. Our mission is to protect nature and the environment, from the sky to the ground.
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ELSA Nature Conservancy, Petition to Warn the Japanese People of Mercury Danger, Revised: 29 Aug 2011
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Other Documents

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Meta Information
Last update08/12/2016