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The BBC's Charles Scanlon in Taiji
"Dolphin and whale meat has been here for centuries"
 real 56k

Monday, 16 October, 2000, 15:17 GMT 16:17 UK
Dolphin hunting thrives in Japan
Dolphin hunt
Small boats are used to round up groups of dolphins
Image: (c) Environmental Investigation Agency

By Charles Scanlon in Taiji, south-eastern Japan

In the coastal town of Taiji in Japan, the dolphin-hunting season has just begun, despite protests from environmental groups.

At least 20,000 dolphins and porpoises are killed each year in Japanese coastal waters, and environmentalists warn continued hunting threatens their long term survival

However, the hunters of Taiji say they are just continuing in the proud traditions of their town, regarded as the birthplace of the Japanese whaling industry.

Dolphin and whale meat has been eaten for centuries in Taiji, and are still popular items despite rising prices and the ban on commercial whaling.

Since the ban, Taiji's economy has become more dependent on the fish catch, but its people resent being told by foreigners what they should eat.

The whaling ban does not apply to smaller marine mammals, and 28 men in the town are still licensed to continue the traditional dolphin hunt.

The dolphins are herded towards the shore by the town's fleet of small boats, and secured with nets where they will be left for a day or two before being slaughtered.

Glamorous job

"For people in this town it's a glamorous job...from early childhood we wanted to get onto these boats," says dolphin-hunter Yoshiro Kogai.

Yoshiro Kogai
Yoshiro Kogai: "Hunting dolphins is something people look up to"
"Hunting dolphins and whales is one step up from being an ordinary fishermen it's something that people look up to," he says.

The hunting of small whales and dolphins is a highly profitable business, with the meat fetching more in local markets than any type of fish, including the highly prized tuna.

Yoshifumi Kai from the Taiji Fishery Co-operative points out that every part of the animals are eaten. Surely it's crueller to hunt foxes and deer for sport, he says.

Hunting 'unsustainable'

The hunters say they have no intention of giving up, despite the pressure from outside that dolphin hunting is unsustainable.

Striped dolphin
The striped dolphin population has already been decimated
"The striped dolphin has practically been wiped out from the area north of here because it was hunted in such high numbers," says Clare Perry from the Environmental Investigation Agency.

"There's a chance that could happen around here with other dolphins," she warns.

Environmentalists say the slaughter is also largely unregulated, and allege that dolphin meat is often sold fraudulently as whale, which fetches higher prices and is eaten much more widely in Japan.

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See also:

31 Aug 00 | Asia-Pacific
Japan 'regrets' US whaling protest
06 Jul 00 | Sci/Tech
Whaling ban stays - for now
19 Jun 00 | Asia-Pacific
Japan campaigns for whaling
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