Driven by Demand - Dolphin drive hunts and the involvement of the aquarium industry

Courtney S Vail, Denise Risch

Research output: Book/ReportOther report


Fishermen have killed small cetaceans (dolphins, porpoises and small whales) around the coastlines of Japan for centuries. Currently, over 20,000 of these animals are killed every year in “drive hunts”, hand-held harpoon1 and cross-bow hunts, and in so-called “small type coastal whaling” where harpoons are fired from a boat's bow.2 The species targeted by these hunts include Dall's porpoises, Risso's dolphins, bottlenose dolphins, short-finned pilot whales, striped dolphins, spotted dolphins, false killer whales and Baird's beaked whales. Increasingly, these hunts have come under international scrutiny, prompting concern from bodies such as the International Whaling Commission (IWC), on both welfare and conservation grounds. In the last 20 years, over 400,000 small cetaceans have been killed in Japanese waters.3 One particularly controversial form of these hunts, and the focus of this report, is the “drive hunt” (sometimes called the “drive fishery” or “oikomiryou” in Japanese), in which dolphins and small whales are corralled by boats and driven, sometimes by their hundreds, into shallow water where they are killed for their meat and blubber. Not all the dolphins are killed, however. A growing and disturbing trend has surfaced that links the thriving aquarium ('captivity') industry to this archaic practice. Instead of driving dolphins to their death for human consumption and fertilizer, or as a means of what might be described as “pest control”, resulting from claims that dolphins significantly compete for fish with fisherman, fishing cooperatives are collaborating with national and international aquaria and marine amusement parks to select dolphins from these hunts for public display and human-dolphin interaction programmes. These hunts present a significant threat to both the welfare and conservation of the cetacean populations they target. They continue contrary to the repeated recommendations of the IWC and its Scientific Committee and the Government of Japan's claims that it pursues a policy of sustainable utilization of marine resources.4 Furthermore, the edible products of the dolphins taken in these hunts are often highly polluted with contaminants including mercury and organic compounds such as PCBs, and can pose a risk to human consumers.5 Despite intense international criticism of the inhumane methods of slaughter employed, and as Japanese prefectures appeared to be on the verge of abandoning the hunts, the demand for live animals to supply a growing number of marine parks and aquaria is emerging as a primary motivating factor for the drive hunts to continue in Japan. This report explores the nature of this demand and the role of the aquarium industry that purchases live animals from these hunts. This cooperation between the aquarium industry and the drive hunts is a devastating development for Japan's dolphins.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages40
Publication statusPublished - 2006


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