Japanese Prime Minister Dodges International Outrage

<p>Flickr, <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/jdebberly/" style="font-size: 15px;">J. D. Ebberly</a></p>
<p>Flickr, <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/jdebberly/" style="font-size: 15px;">J. D. Ebberly</a></p>

After the global reaction to the brutal dolphin slaughter in Taiji, Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has been forced to respond to criticisms that the practice is cruel and inhumane. In an interview with Fareed Zakaria, the Prime Minister cited the "historical significance" of the practice:

The dolphin fishing that takes place in Taiji town is an ancient fishing practice deeply rooted in their culture and their practices and supports their livelihoods. We hope you will understand this. In every country and region, there are practices and ways of living and culture that have been handed down from ancestors. Naturally, I feel that these should be respected.

Many, like former trainer and anti-captivity advocate Jeffrey Ventre, counter claims like this by saying that the dolphin drive in this form is not so old. "My understanding is that the modern era of drive fisheries began in 1969, when skiffs became more powerful and maneuverable enough to be more efficient at killing," Ventre wrote for The Dodo. And most of the animals caught are destined for marine parks -- humans began keeping dolphins in captivity in the 1870s, but it wasn't until the 1940s and 1950s that oceanariums began opening all over the world.

The Prime Minister acknowledged criticisms against the dolphin slaughter -- one of the most vocal being U.S. Ambassador to Japan, Caroline Kennedy.

At the same time, I am aware that there are various criticisms. I have also heard they are making major improvement in their fishing methods. Both the fishing and fishing methods are strictly regulated.

According to the AFP, the fishing methods used in Taiji involve using submerged metal poles attached to boats that emit sonar, driving the dolphins inland into the cove. Fishermen then net the dolphins in and often choose some for captivity. The rest are slaughtered for their meat. For a scientific study released last year, a group of reviewers called the drive hunting technique "unjustifiable and unacceptable" in an interview with the New York Times. The study's abstract reads:

This killing method does not conform to the recognized requirement for "immediate insensibility" [some background is here] and would not be tolerated or permitted in any regulated slaughterhouse process in the developed world.

During the most recent hunts in the cove, the hunters have been using tarps to cover the carcasses -- though activists have still managed to take footage and images of the slaughter.

ACTION GUIDE: Taiji Dolphin Slaughter

Dolphin roundups and slaughter -- brought powerfully to the public's imagination by he Oscar-winning documentary "The Cove" -- happen every year in Japan. You can visit Sea Shepherd's site to learn more about the problem, and sign this petition asking the Obama administration to condemn the hunt. The organization has many ways you can help -- from volunteering to simply spreading the word on Facebook and Twitter. Sea Shepherd also encourages concerned citizens to call and write to the authorities in Taiji as well as the Japanese Embassy in your country, the U.S. Embassy to Japan, U.S. and Japanese Ambassadors to the UN and the U.S. Senate members of the Committee on Foreign Relations, among others -- all of their contact information is on this page. Another group involved in the issue is Earth Island Institute's Save Japan Dolphins.