(Recasts, updates estimate of dolphins killed this season)
By Ruairidh Villar
TAIJI, Japan Jan 21 Japanese fishermen drove a
large group of dolphins into the shallows on Tuesday and, hiding
from reporters and TV cameras behind a tarpaulin, killed at
least 30 as the annual dolphin hunt that sparked protest in the
West entered its final stages.
Both the U.S. and British ambassadors to Japan have strongly
criticised the "drive killings" of dolphins citing the "terrible
suffering" inflicted on the marine mammals.
Every year the fishermen of Taiji, in western Wakayama
prefecture, drive hundreds of dolphins into a cove, select some
for sale to marine parks, release some and kill the rest for
On Tuesday, at least 30 dolphins out of the group of more
than 200 held in the cove since Friday were herded by boat
engines and nets into a killing area of the Taiji cove.
Fishermen waiting in the shallow waters by the shore, some
in wet suits with snorkelling masks on their faces, wrestled the
dolphins into submission and tied their tails with ropes to stop
them from escaping.
Before the killing began, fishermen pulled a tarpaulin in
front of the cove to prevent activists and reporters from seeing
the killing. A large pool of blood seeped under the tarpaulin
and spread across the cove.
"A metal rod was stabbed into their spinal cord, where they
were left to bleed out, suffocate and die. After a traumatic
four days held captive in the killing cove, they experienced
violent captive selection, being separated from their family,
and then eventually were killed today," Sea Shepherd
Conservation Society activist Melissa Sehgal told Reuters.
The annual hunt has long been a source of controversy and
was the topic of "The Cove", an Oscar-winning documentary that
brought Taiji into the international spotlight.
Activists say that out of this year's group more than 50
dolphins were driven away to be sold to aquariums. Those not
killed on Tuesday were released, they said.
"UK opposes all forms of dolphin and porpoise drives; they
cause terrible suffering. We regularly raise (the issue) with
Japan," said the British Ambassador to Japan, Timothy Hitchens,
in a tweet on Monday. Caroline Kennedy, the U.S. envoy to Tokyo,
has also said she was "deeply concerned" about the hunt.
Japan maintains that killing dolphins is not banned under
any international treaty and that the animals are not
Yoshinobu Nisaka, the governor of Wakayama prefecture where
Taiji is located, rejected Kennedy's concerns.
"Dietary culture varies and it is the wisdom of civilization
to mutually respect other standpoints unless the world faces a
lack of resources," Nisaka was quoted by Kyodo news agency as
The Taiji fishing union rejected Reuters requests for
The dolphin hunting season runs yearly from September to
March. Sea Shepherd said around 600 marine mammals had been
killed this season before Tuesday's slaughter.
Monitoring is difficult, with fishermen erecting tarpaulins
over their killing area and blocking access to the cove.
(Writing and additional reporting by Antoni Slodkowski; Editing
by Nick Macfie)