Modern day hunting in Taiji

Traditional harpooner with modern whaling ship in background - Taiji, Japan

The boats in Taiji, the last remaining drive-hunting town in Japan, have changed significantly since the early whaling days. Modern boats are diesel fueled and rely on speed and maneuverability to outrun the cetaceans being targeted. The boats use of metal rods attached to large bells under the surface of the water disorient the dolphins when struck, by interfering with their sonar. These boats are aptly referred to as ‘banger boats’. In Taiji, as well as other areas of Japan, larger boats are also used to kill dolphins offshore through the use of hand-held and machine operated harpoon guns.

An average of around 1,432 dolphins are killed for their meat as well as for what some define as ‘pest control'. Around 90 dolphins annually are also taken into captivity from the hunts in Taiji. Many people believe that the captive industry is the key to solving and stopping Japan’s dolphin hunts however, with around 16,541 dolphins and other small cetaceans being killed annually in Japan (prior to the 2011 Tohoku earthquake and tsunami), only one town out of six taking dolphins into captivity, as well as recent news of WAZA banning the sale of captive dolphins from Taiji internationally, dolphin hunting in Japan will continue regardless of the captive trade.

Taiji has recently gained notoriety through the Hollywood film ‘The Cove’, that brought to light the dolphin hunts in an attempt to end them. The Cove movie has been highly successful in bringing awareness to the situation in Taiji internationally, however, many Taiji people see it as a direct attack on their livelihood, identity and a culture that dates back centuries.

Whilst Taiji has gained international condemnation for its dolphin hunts and captive trade, largely due to the release of “The Cove”, many other dolphin and porpoise hunting towns are not receiving the same attention, even those that target more cetaceans than Taiji does. The Taiji people feel threatened and afraid as many foreigners are turning up to their town with resentment, hostility and anger directed at them.

Blaming 3,500 residents for hunts undertaken by 23 individuals has created a strong divide in the town that is instilling a ‘never say die’ attitude within certain factions of the community. Many activists have referred to the Taiji people as “evil”, some have even gone so far as to call them “molesters” and "inhumane murderers". We believe that these negative sentiments toward the local people need to be overcome and a greater understanding of the history, culture and situation is needed in order for any resolution to take place in the town.

Pacific white-sided dolphin in captivity - Taiji, Japan


Photography © Karl Goodsell, Positive Change for Marine Life