Blog | In Iwate, Japan, the Killing Continues

In Iwate, Japan, the Killing Continues

March 11, 2011 by Ric O'Barry, Earth Island Institute


In Iwate, Japan, the Killing Continues

By Ric O’Barry

Campaign Director

Save Japan Dolphins

Earth Island Institute

The Cove movie focused on the town of Taiji and the brutal dolphin drive hunt, which kills 1500 to 2000 dolphins annually.  (Probably half that number were killed this past season.)  But the government of Japan issues 23,000 permits annually to kill dolphins.

Many of the dolphins killed in Japan are offshore Dall’s porpoises, one of the fastest of the dolphin tribe.  But not fast enough for dolphin harpoon boats.  Much of the hunting of Dall’s porpoise takes place in Iwate Province in northern Japan, as Dall’s porpoise are a cold-water species from northern seas. 

Save Japan Dolphins’ Brian Barnes headed up to Iwate recently, and filed this report of the dolphin killing there:


Taiji ended it's seasonal "dolphin drive" hunts at the notorious killing Cove in late February, a month earlier than normal.  I monitored the activities of the fishermen in Taiji for a few weeks after the announcement of the hunts end – indeed the hunts have ended for the year.

However, cetaceans are still be slaughtered along Japan's northern coast in Iwate Prefecture.  The Iwate hunt is the largest single cetacean hunt in the world, and, unlike the Taiji hunt, there is no season – it is a year-round slaughter.  The Iwate hunt is also very difficult to monitor.  Instead of a Taiji-style hunt where dolphins are forced into a Cove near the beach with some access, the Iwate hunt takes place in the Pacific well off Japan's northern coast.  (Local Japanese won’t rent boats to Westerners to photograph the hunts offshore.)

Around 15,000 Dall's porpoises are killed in this hunt each year, although the numbers killed have been decreasing as the populations have been decimated.  The hunt has been repeatedly described by the International Whaling Commission’s Scientific Committee as "clearly unsustainable".  Since record keeping began for the hunts in the 1960s, more than a half million Dall's porpoises have been slaughtered.  And tests show the Dall’s porpoises also have very high levels of poisons like mercury and PCB’s.

I traveled to the fishing town of Otsuchi, which is where the hunts are largely based during March.  I arrived on March 9th and was immediately greeted by two people who identified themselves as police officers and requested my passport.

The following morning I was awakened by a 6.0 earthquake.  Over at the harbor the fishermen were ready after learning that Western activists were in town, and they resorted to "Taiji style" games such as hiding their butchery behind tarps and empty crates that were stacked up along the outer perimeter of the slaughter house to block photography.   The slaughter of these cetaceans is clearly something they do not wish the world to witness.

The weather was bad on the morning of the 10th, so the boats didn't leave the harbor.  However, they often leave the frozen carcasses of the previous day's hunt in the boats overnight to unload the following morning.  The unloading and butchering took place behind tarps.  However I did manage to get a few photos of one of the butchers disposing of unwanted parts while wearing safety gear.  These fishermen are of course aware of the toxicity in the meat they are selling on the public market throughout Japan.  Mercury and other toxins concentrate in the organs, so these parts are usually disposed of separately as toxic waste.

I spoke with a city official in the town and explained several key issues such as contamination of HeMg (methyl-mercury) and other toxins, sustainability issues and cetacean self-awareness.  I think it's just as important to tell the world about this hunt.  I was able to obtain several photographs of the boats and learn how the hunts are conducted.

At the moment, the fishermen and police of Otsuchi appear concerned that the overwhelming activist presence in Taiji from this past season will happen here as well.  The time to tell the world about this mass slaughter on the northern coast of Japan is long overdue.



Photography by Brian Barnes.


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In Iwate, Japan, the Killing Continues