Hundreds of marine biologists and zoo and aquarium administrators from around the world have come together to step up international pressure on Japan to end its annual "dolphin drive" in which as many as 20,000 small marine mammals are herded into shallow coves and slaughtered or captured by fishermen. The group"s statement calls on the Japanese government to stop issuing permits allowing the hunt and for a halt to the purchase of dolphins caught in the drive. Organizers also hope to obtain one million signatures of those opposed to the dolphin drive to submit to the Japanese government.
While dolphin meat is not considered a delicacy, it is marketable for pet food and as fertilizer. While the Japanese government has been encouraging human consumption of dolphin meat, the most lucrative aspect of the drive for participating fishermen is selling captured live dolphins to aquariums in Asia and beyond.
The Japanese government, which issues permits for the dolphin drive, defends the centuries-old practice as a cultural tradition and economic necessity for those involved. “It is kind of our cultural activity,” Takumi Fukuda, a fisheries attaché at the Japanese embassy in Washington, DC, told reporters. He added that the Japanese government has already limited the practice to economic development zones where fishermen are struggling to make ends meet, and that only a limited number of permits are issued so as to ensure the survival of targeted marine mammal species.
Still, though, the scientists signing on to the campaign to stop the drive see the whole practice as inhumane, especially given the intelligence and sensitivity shown by dolphins and other marine mammals. Diana Reiss, director of the marine mammal research program at the New York Aquarium’s Osborn Laboratories of Marine Science, echoed the sentiments of other signatories when she told reporters that she views the hunt as “a brutal and inhumane practice that violates all standards for animal welfare.”