The Japanese dolphin hunt that has been gaining international attention over the past four days has finally come to an end in Taiji, conservation group Sea Shepherd announced in a statement posted to their Facebook page. In total, 52 dolphins were taken captive to be sold to international aquariums, 41 were slaughtered for their meat, bringing the grand total of dolphins taken to 93. Some 130-140 were released back into the ocean. Sea Shepherd said that the 250 herded into the cove on Friday represented the largest group it has ever seen.
And that may be just the beginning. Mark Palmer, Associate Director of the International Marine Mammal Project, said that the hunt, which lasts for five months, goes from the first of September through the end of February. Hunters go out every day except Sundays, but they can't hunt in bad weather, and don't find dolphins every day, "so it is pretty much catch as catch-can."
Karla Sanjur, a volunteer on the ground in Taiji, added that there are usually at least one or two slaughters each week, saying, "Tomorrow morning they will most likely go back out again and there could be another slaughter as soon as Friday."
Thankfully, this is not a total guarantee. According to Sea Shepherd, it's hard to predict when they will or will not find a pod, but the hunters will continue to go out in search of pods throughout the season. When they find a pod, they will attempt to drive them in to the cove for captive selection or slaughter.
As far as the dolphins that were released on Tuesday, they may not be in the clear yet -- they have been without food for four days, and many are juveniles. "Many of these dolphins who were driven out will not survive and will soon be found washed ashore in the coming days," Sea Shepherd said in their statement.
And it's still not clear where those 52 taken for captivity, including a rare albino calf, will end up. "That has been our biggest problem for the longest time," Sanjur said. "We have not been able to track them."
Palmer also said that many of the captives will wind up in dolphinariums in Japan. "There are about 100 dolphinariums in Japan, which range from big aquariums very similar to SeaWorld in the U.S., down to a floating net pen in a harbor where people are charged $100 or more for a pathetic ‘dolphin encounter,'" he said in an e-mail. "China is the biggest market overseas for Taiji dolphins, again to aquariums which are very popular in that country. Others have gone to the Middle East and even the Caribbean."
Palmer added that the transactions are often done in secret, making it hard to identify which individual dolphins go to which aquariums.
UPDATE: The Ocean Preservation Society reports that the dolphin hunters have set out in search of new pods: