Column: Let's finally put an end to dolphin hunting

Dolphin hunters off the coast of Taiji, Japan, kill the marine mammals after using noise to herd them toward shore.
The Cove Copyright Oceanic Preservation Society
Dolphin hunters off the coast of Taiji, Japan, kill the marine mammals after using noise to herd them toward shore. The Cove Copyright Oceanic Preservation Society
Published Sept. 29, 2016

From September through March, every year, in the coastal waters near the small Japanese village of Taiji, a gruesome dolphin hunt takes place. Hunters aboard speedboats use noise to herd schools of dolphins toward shore, corralling them in a cove where they are surrounded by nets, manhandled by divers, and most are killed. They are killed by driving a metal rod into the dolphin's neck vertebrae to try to sever the spinal cord — a method that has been strongly condemned for its cruelty. The hunt has become better known to the world thanks to the Academy Award-winning film The Cove.

Fishermen slaughter about 1,000 of these marine mammals in drive hunts each year, and the majority are butchered for their meat. But some are taken alive and sold to the aquarium trade — something akin to a black market of organizations that work outside the guidelines of the accredited zoological community.

In spite of the international outcry from many, including the world's leading zoos and aquariums, wildlife conservation and welfare groups and millions of outraged people, the Japanese government continues to issue permits for these dolphin hunts. (The same nation is also an outlier in allowing commercial whaling under the guise of science.)

It is time for the United States to urge Japan, our ally and trading partner, to call a halt to this cruelty. The U.S. government has already banned live dolphins captured during these hunts from entering our country. And the practice has been condemned by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, the World Association of Zoos and Aquariums and, importantly, the Japanese Association of Zoos and Aquariums.

Now we have a unique opportunity to step up the pressure.

Tokyo is preparing to host the Summer Olympics in 2020 and seeking to avoid needless controversy. From the U.S. government to advocacy organizations and concerned citizens, Americans should make the most of this moment and mobilize what our founders called "the decent opinion of mankind" against this inhumanity.

As for the dolphin hunters of Taiji, the government of Japan and its economic partners, including the United States, should help them to find new livelihoods, with retraining and transitional assistance as needed. In advanced societies such as Japan and the United States, where consumers care about conservation, this makes good sense.

But for all their brutality, the Taiji dolphin hunts are part of a larger problem. Japan hosts a number of other hunts for dolphins, porpoises and small whales. Combined, these hunts have killed an average of more than 3,000 of these animals each year.

And throughout the world, more than 23,000 marine and terrestrial species are endangered, largely because of causes within our control: poaching, pollution, habitat loss, unsustainable development and human-caused disasters such as oil or chemical spills. Unless humanity, literally, cleans up its act, some scientists predict that only a century from now, many more species will be added to the extinction list.

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In addressing this crisis, governments have an important part to play. But governments can't do the job alone. It is important to build the broadest possible coalitions to protect the world's wildlife and the natural environment.

That is why the Humane Society of the United States — one of the world's leading animal advocacy organizations, and SeaWorld — one of the world's largest zoological organizations — are working together against ocean pollution, commercial whaling, seal hunts and shark finning. In addition to our shared advocacy, we are also redoubling our efforts on the ground — focused on rescuing and rehabilitating wild marine mammals in need — all with the goal of returning them back to their natural homes.

By teaming up, we're not letting other disagreements hinder collaboration. The stain of dolphin hunts should remind environmentally conscious people from every viewpoint and walk of life that we need to find common ground and work together to protect wild species from exploitation and extinction if we're going to save the Earth and its all its inhabitants, human and animal.

Wayne Pacelle is the president and CEO of the Humane Society of the United States. Joel Manby is the president and CEO of SeaWorld Parks and Entertainment. They wrote this exclusively for the Tampa Bay Times.