Dolphin Hunts - Welfare Concerns

The common principle applied internationally in slaughtering mammals for food is the need to achieve an immediate state of unconsciousness in the animal, followed by rapid progression to death. However, the methods used to chase, capture and kill dolphins in the drive fishery do not (and cannot) ensure instantaneous insensibility followed rapidly by death. As a result, many thousands of dolphins killed each year suffer extensive fear and pain and a prolonged time to death.

Scientific research indicates that some dolphin species possess self-awareness similar to our own.  These sentient animals comprehend their circumstances and exhibit signs of great distress during their capture, roundup and subsequent slaughter.  Whales and dolphins also have complicated social structures and in some instances, specific cultures. Unlike domestic animals, which in most countries, including Japan, are subject to protection from inhumane slaughter methods and treatment, cetaceans are subject to no such regulation and killing techniques are cruel and painful.

The scientific community has recently called for an end to these hunts on humane grounds alone. Currently, a killing tool is being employed that extends the time to death: a cutting tool is used to sever the spinal column, and the wound is plugged with a wooden dowel to prevent bleeding.  A recent veterinary analysis reveals the inhumanity of these procedures. 

Despite intense international criticism of the inhumane methods of slaughter employed, and as Japanese prefectures appeared to be on the verge of abandoning the hunts, the demand for live animals to supply a growing number of marine parks and aquaria is emerging as a primary motivating factor for the drive hunts to continue in Japan.

Chase and round-up

Stress suffered during capture and the selection process is likely to compromise the survival of any dolphins released from the hunt. Studies have shown that the capture of wild cetaceans, regardless of methodology, is liable to induce extreme levels of stress. Chase and pursuit may result in stress-related mortality in dolphins, since over-exertion may lead to muscular and cardiac tissue damage and possibly lead to shock, paralysis and death, or longer term morbidity. However, no assessment has been made of the effects of the drive hunt on dolphins, including the long-term physiological effects on any survivors. Beyond this harmful individual impact, the disruption or damage to a captured animal's social group caused by its removal, while largely unknown and not well studied, may be substantial.

Psychological suffering

Small whales and dolphins often live in close, strongly- bonded family groups. During the killing and selection of dolphins in the drive hunts, individual animals may be swimming in the blood of other dolphins in their family group, hearing and seeing their distress as they are killed. Scientific research reveals that dolphins are self-aware and cognitive beings. Bottlenose dolphins have exhibited mirror self-recognition, an ability shared only by great apes and humans. WDC believes that the dolphins targeted by these hunts may be aware of what is happening to them and other dolphins during the process and suffer extreme fear and distress as a result.

Capture and transport

The live capture and transport of these animals is an extremely stressful process that may result in the deaths of the dolphins before they arrive at the aquarium facility they are chosen for. A study of bottlenose dolphins captured from the wild indicates a six-fold increase in mortality in their first five days of confinement. In the drive hunts, even dolphins released from the selection process may experience significant mortality.

Furthermore, the small whales and dolphins typically held in captivity, such as bottlenose dolphins and orcas, are wholly aquatic, far-ranging, fast-moving, deep-diving predators. In the wild they may travel up to 150 kilometres a day, reach speeds of up to fifty kilometres an hour, and dive several hundred meters. They are highly intelligent, extraordinarily social, and behaviourally complex. WDC believes that it is impossible to accommodate their mental, physical and social needs in captivity and that it is cruel to confine them. Scientific evidence indicates that whales and dolphins in captivity suffer extreme mental and physical stress, which is revealed in aggression between themselves and towards humans, a lower survival rate and higher infant mortality than in the wild. In addition, many cetaceans are held in appallingly inadequate conditions that have a direct negative impact on their health and wellbeing.