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Stabbed and butchered: Japan’s secret dolphin slaughter

Less than 300m from where this spectacular photograph of three leaping dolphins was taken, a group of Japanese fishermen continue to slaughter thousands of the highly-intelligent ocean mammals every year.

Welcome to Taiji – the Japanese sister town to the iconic WA holiday destination Broome.

For the next four months, Taiji’s 26 dolphin hunters will run an increasingly secretive operation to fill its government-sanctioned quota of 2300 dolphins.

Any pods — which can include newborns and pregnant mothers — that pass by the Pacific Ocean town south of Tokyo can be herded, captured, killed and butchered.

The fishermen’s co-operative will earn about $600 per animal before meat packs are sold in supermarkets to the dwindling number of Japanese consumers still keen to eat dolphin.

Unlike Japan’s international whaling shame, what takes place in Taiji happens largely without debate.

But pressure is mounting on Broome to demand an end to the slaughter in Taiji or sever its strong bond with the town in protest over the annual killing spree.

The West Australian travelled to Japan to investigate and capture images of the Taiji dolphin kill.

In conjunction with the fishermen, the Taiji Town Council has erected barricades and posted signs to ward off anyone trying to photograph or film the almost daily event.

Large stretches of the national park skirting the coves used by the fishermen to capture and kill the dolphins are closed to the public by order of Taiji’s mayor.

For the first time, this newspaper witnessed a new technique being used by the fishermen desperate to hide the amount of blood that flows from the dolphins into the sea after they are stabbed and sliced to death in early morning killings. White foam was pumped over the blood as it spread across the cove, normally part of Taiji’s main swimming beach.

No one in the town would discuss the dolphin slaughter and a request through Taiji’s main tourist attraction, the whale museum, to interview the mayor was rejected. The museum features dolphins doing tricks in daily shows and until recently, sold dolphin meat in its shop.

Broome conservationist Malcolm Douglas told The West Australian that few people in the Kimberley community knew what went on in their Japanese sister town.

“At the very least, Broome ratepayers have a right to know about what happens in their sister city and decide if they want this relationship to continue,” he said.

“In this day and age you can’t condone it in any way. By doing nothing it looks as though Broome is condoning it. Imagine if this was happening in Roebuck Bay?”

Mr Douglas called on the Shire of Broome’s council to debate the town’s relationship with Taiji immediately and consider cutting all ties until the slaughter was stopped.

Stabbed and butchered: Japan’s secret dolphin slaughter
Dolphin killers in Taiji, Japan.

“We are bonding with a place which allows this to happen,” he said. “I have been choking up just thinking about it.”

Broome shire president Graeme Campbell said: “I don’t condone what’s going on in terms of Taiji’s cultural practice. It’s not a pleasant practice and it’s not supported by us.”

But Mr Campbell would not support moves to end the relationship, which includes visits to and from Taiji by council officials of the two towns and a student exchange program.

“In Australia we still slaughter turtles and dugongs — a practice claimed under the notion of cultural rights,” he said. “We can’t preach what we don’t practice.”

The Broome-Taiji connection dates back more than 100 years when men from the Japanese town came to the West Kimberley coast to help pioneer the pearling industry.

“I think it’s a terrible practice, who wouldn’t think that?” Broome councillor Chris Maher said.

“We don’t have a position on this and my personal belief is that we should have a position. It should be debated.”

The world’s leading campaigner against the slaughter, American Richard O’Barry, said Broome was in a powerful position and could send a strong message to government officials in Taiji and Tokyo.

“These incredible animals are swimming freely out at sea with their families until they run into fishermen who reduce them to lumps of meat on a cold concrete floor,” he said.

“Broome can help stop this and if it doesn’t, then it condones it.”

The Japanese consulate said it would not respond to The West Australian’s questions until next week.


5 responses

  1. Tristan Turner

    We were horrified so see the news bulliton this evening showing the slaughter, and capture for sale of these beautiful marine mammals. I thought it was blood curdling and felt sick. Broome should end their ties with Taiji in protest. There are no excuses for this barbaric practice and Australia is being remiss in pacifity, as with the Whaling situation. Having recently visited Broome we feel a particular anger that Locally there is a lack of knowledge as to this practice, and are pleased the media is raising awarness.

    December 8, 2008 at 5:33 pm

  2. big bad pete

    Seashepherd is with you on this one guys, I am a shorebased seashepherd volunteer, I am running a email protest to the Broome shire council, send a email of protest about broomes swister city union wwith the dolphin butchers of Taiji

    all the emails addresses are on this site

    Run the ball, spread this on we have to put pressure on the japs, and losing face as well as broome sister city status might get them to pull their heads in.

    December 9, 2008 at 5:27 pm

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  4. This is truely horrific. All for the mighty Yen. I wonder if Greenpeace is aware of this. I have a feeling that this article will circle the globe more than once and if enough concerned Humans read it that the impact may rock the world enough to say enough is enough.

    December 13, 2008 at 10:28 am

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