What Motivates Taiji Hunt? $1.2 Million For Captive Dolphins, Not Tradition

When you understand the profits involved in the Taiji Dolphin hunt, you can see that there are millions of reasons the Taiji Fishery Union and the Taiji dolphin brokers are determined to keep the drive hunt going despite international condemnation.

Selling dolphins to the captive display industry is clearly a major profit motivation. Now, via a Japanese animal welfare advocate who tracks the dolphin trade, we have some hard numbers.

According to official trade figures, in 2013 Japan exported 78 dolphins to five different countries. And the sales price the Taiji Whale Museum got per dolphin was in the range of $41,600-$47,746 (at the current yen/dollar exchange rate) for a trained dolphin, with Chinese buyers getting the best deal (Russian buyers might want to revisit their negotiating strategy). The twenty untrained dolphins that went to Ukraine brought in $10,134 each, less than a quarter of the price of a trained dolphin. Sales of dolphins to Japanese aquariums net slightly less profit, with trained dolphins going for an estimated $20,000-$30,000 each, according to sources in Japan.

It is believed that the Taiji Fishery Union (which does the hunting, capturing and killing), sells the dolphins they select to the brokers operating in Taiji for about $8,000 per dolphin. Sale of a dead dolphin for meat nets in the range of hundreds of dollars. So, for the fishermen and their union, a captured dolphin for the display industry is worth roughly ten times as much as a dead dolphin for the meat industry.

That is a massive financial incentive (created by marine park demand for dolphins), both to continue the Taiji dolphin drive hunt as well as to sell as many live display dolphins as possible to Taiji's local dolphin brokers. According to Ceta-Base and Whale and Dolphin Conservation, 247 Taiji dolphins were sold for display in aquariums over the course of the 2012-2013 drive season. Crunching the numbers, that is an estimated $2 million in revenue for the Taiji Fishery Union, plus whatever they brought in through dead dolphin meat sales. And it means a very rough estimate of $7 million-plus in revenues for Taiji's dolphin brokers.

The 2013-2014 is on track to be very profitable, too. According to Ceta-Base, during the current Taiji drive hunt season, which has perhaps a month to go, 155 dolphins have been taken captive for sale to the display industry so far. Even if no more dolphins are taken captive this season, capturing live dolphins has netted an estimated $1.24 million in revenue for the fishermen, and roughly $5 million in revenues for the brokers.