Imagine getting cornered by an immense group of another species. They surround you with a wall of loud, sharp noises, imprisoning you and sending a frightening jolt throughout your whole body. Terrified and alarmed, you move in a random direction, losing your original sense of navigation in your panic. You are helpless as you easily fall into their trap, now isolated from the rest of your group, your family. Your death is long and drawn out, full of agonizing stabs.
Every year on September 1st, and for the following 6 months, this, and more, is exactly what happens to dolphins. Hundreds and thousands of these peaceful creatures are murdered annually in Taiji, Japan. This harsh practice is done so people can eat dolphin meat or keep the animals captive for entertainment in marine parks or aquariums (Dolphin Hunt – Focus on Taiji, Japan, 2015).
Types of dolphins hunted down include the bottlenose dolphins, striped dolphins, false killer whales, pantropical spotted dolphins, Risso’s dolphins, pacific white-sided dolphins, and short-finned pilot whales, and if any of these are to go extinct, there would be a major issue in the ocean’s environment. The brutality of these hunts is hard to imagine. A group of fisherman signal each other when they find a pod of dolphins. Their boats strategically position themselves around the pod, and lower steel pipes, which they strike to create a sound dolphins find distressing. This causes the dolphins to swim towards shore, where the fisherman can better trap them with nets. After they are trapped, the dolphins are left in the sheltered cove overnight to recover from the abrupt disturbance that drove them to this new, foreign place. The next day, one by one, the dolphins are slaughtered with spears and blades. Their bodies are stabbed, or their throats are cut, causing them to die of exsanguination and trauma. Some dolphins can be laying on the boat paralyzed, bleeding out for several hours (Butterworth, Brakes, Reiss & Vial, 2013). By the end of the day, the clear blue water, turns into a thick, murky blood bath.
This process would not “be tolerated or permitted in any regulated slaughterhouse process in the developed world” (A Veterinary and Behavioral Analysis of Dolphin Killing Methods Currently Used in the “Drive Hunt” in Taiji, Japan). Adding to the controversy is that dolphins are very intelligent and emotional compared to most other animals. It has been found that dolphins suffer from loneliness and feel grief. Such a painful death with massive pain for prolonged amount of time hurts them both physically and psychologically.
Adding to the inhumanity of the hunts is the fact that dolphins are vital to the ocean’s food chain. Killing them on such a large scale hurts every other animal that depends on balance in the oceans, including humans. Dolphins act as top-level predators, bio indicators, and as sanitary police. When studying dolphins, a lot can be concluded about their surrounding environment. If they are found to be sick, it indicates that there is a problem with the water. This discovery can help clean up polluted waters, protecting other living beings from being harmed – and preventing people from eating those sick animals (Revermann, 2016).
Dolphins don’t just alert humans to toxic waters, they also eat diseased fish. Fish afflicted with the toxin ciguatera are amongst the ill fish that dolphins eat. Ciguatera-infected fish can cause food poisoning when consumed by people, and dolphins help keep these fish off of the dinner table (Revermann, 2016).
After examining the vital significance of dolphins to their environments, one might question why the Japanese government is still so persistent about continuing these annual hunts. The answer they give is simple yet ludicrous: pest control. The Japanese government and fishermen claim that dolphins eat too much fish, decreasing the amount of seafood people in Japan can eat (Frequently Asked Questions for Dolphin Hunts, 2016). While dolphins balance out the food chain, humans are the ones who are truly responsible for any imbalance. We are the ones forcibly inviting ourselves into the sea and tinkering with its delicate balance. It is unreasonable to punish dolphins for our actions. If there is a small amount of fish left to hunt, this is due to human activity and growth, not dolphins’ natural eating habits. Instead of defending their practice with unreasonable statements, the Japanese government and their fishermen could do more to understand the effects of their hunting. Recognizing the role these dolphins play in the grand scheme of things is the first step to stopping, or at least limiting, these senseless hunts.
Perhaps the worst indignity of these hunts is the fact that dolphin meat isn’t even good for humans to eat. Dolphins are high in mercury, a metal considered to be the second most toxic poison in the world. Mercury attacks the brain and the nervous system, causing damage to eyesight, hearing, and motor-skills. It interferes with one’s memory and thought processes, eventually leading to dementia. For women who are pregnant, it can cause their fetuses to suffer life-long brain damage. In extreme amounts, it can also result in death (O’Barry, 2016). People who eat dolphin meat expose themselves to all of these risks.
How much mercury is in dolphin meat? In some cases, the levels of mercury are up to 5,000 times higher than the levels suggested by the UN World Health Organization and the Japanese Ministry of Health. Besides mercury, dolphins are also contaminated with other hazardous pollutants like PCBs and cadmium. PCBs are chemicals associated with the "estrogen effect,” meaning it mimics the female hormone estrogen. In women, this excess of estrogen may lead to breast cancer (Dolphin Meat Obtained in Japan Drive Fisheries: Toxic to Humans, 2007). Since dolphin meat is so deleterious, it stands to reason that it should not be sold in markets.
Dolphins are peaceful, warm creatures. They have become well known for their sociable nature and high level of intelligence. They are also crucial to their environments. No matter how much dolphins are worth in dollars, it is not worth taking their lives and further threatening the already precarious state of our oceans. Yes, thousands of dolphins have already been killed, but further and irreversible damage can still be prevented.
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