Japan carries out annual dolphin slaughter despite harsh criticism from the West

Caroline Kennedy, the U.S. ambassador to Japan, condemned the tradition in a harshly worded tweet

Published January 21, 2014 3:27PM (EST)

Japanese fishermen carried out their annual roundup and slaughter of bottlenose dolphins Tuesday in the village of Taiji in spite of protests from the West, including a harsh tweet from Caroline Kennedy, the new U.S. ambassador to Japan:

[embedtweet id="424405245217611776"]

The traditional hunt has become increasingly controversial in the West -- thanks, in large part, to the documentary "The Cove" (which was basically the "Blackfish" of 2009). Japanese media, on the other hand, don't even cover it. The fishermen involved in the hunt hid behind a tarpaulin from reporters while carrying out the slaughter, which, according to a union representative, was done in a more "humane" way than in the past.

The marine wildlife conservation organization Sea Shepherd, whose efforts were largely responsible for the amount of media attention paid to the hunt, wasn't convinced. "A metal rod was stabbed into their spinal cord, where they were left to bleed out, suffocate and die," activist Melissa Sehgal told Reuters. "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."

The group says that this year's was one of the fishermen's most successful in recent history. Of 250 dolphins herded into the cove, 40 were killed, while 52 were kept for sale to aquariums and other customers. The rest were set free.

Japanese officials pointed out that the number of dolphins killed were well within the government's set quota; unlike commercial whaling, dolphin hunting is not regulated by international law. Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga accused Sea Shepherd of unfairly using the hunt to attract attention to the organization, and questioned Kennedy's harsh criticism.

“Dolphin fishing is a form of traditional fishing in our country,” he said, according to the New York Times. “We will explain Japan’s position to the American side.”

Yoko Ono, meanwhile, stepped in to urge Japan to end the practice for diplomatic reasons, if not humane ones:

"I understand how you must feel about the one-sidedness of the West to be angry at your traditional capture and slaughter of dolphins," she wrote Monday in an open letter to the people of Taiji.

"But I think you should think of this situation from the point-of-view of the big picture ... The future of Japan and its safety depends on many situations, but what you do with Dolphins now can create a very bad relationship with the whole world."

The AP posted footage from the hunt:

By Lindsay Abrams

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