Dolphin Slaughter Is Not Barbaric, Insist Japanese Fisherman Eight Years After Scathing Documentary

Blood in the water and a boat of dead dolphins in Taiji. Oceanic Preservation Society

Eight years ago, a documentary film called "The Cove" showed the world the bloody annual harvest of dolphins off the coast of Taiji, Japan. The film was well-received around the world as an exposé of the terrors of the dolphin harvest.

For most of the eight years since, the fishermen who took part in the harvest refused to speak to the media about the annual hunt. But now, a representative from the fisheries of the town where the hunt takes place, Taiji, has given an interview with The Guardian explaining the hunt from their perspective.

His message: The people of Taiji have been hunting dolphins for generations, and they're not sorry about it.

"The Cove," released in 2009, used secretly-planted cameras to film fishermen rounding up a pod of dolphins and killing them in order to sell their meat. Some are taken alive and sold to aquariums. In one shocking scene, the waters of the cove run bright red and an injured baby dolphin tries in vain to escape death by desperately swimming through blood-tainted water.

The documentary approached the annual harvest as a barbaric practice that should be outlawed. But people living in the fishing village of Taiji consider it part of their historic tradition, according to The Guardian article. Yoshifumi Kai, who works with Taiji's fisheries, told The Guardian that the people who live in Taiji have historically depended on dolphin meat because it's hard to grow crops in that area.

While slaughter of any animal can be upsetting to watch, the Japanese fishermen point out in the new interview that the western slaughter of cattle and pigs is similar. Kai uses that comparison to explain why the fishermen conduct the harvest out of sight of the village, and under tarpaulin sheets. "You never see cattle or other animals being slaughtered in public," Kai told the Guardian. "It's not something you do out in the open."

This explanation isn't likely to quell all animal rights and welfare advocates, like the Humane Society of the US, which calls the annual dolphin hunt "barbaric." Others note that modern, mechanized drive hunts are not traditional.

Kai and Taiji's mayor, Kazutaka Sangen, insist that capturing dolphins and small whales will continue, but they also say that the village is making progress to be more humane. The fishermen now kill dolphins by stabbing them behind the head, severing their brain stem, which they say kills them instantly—but experts don't agree that it does.

According to Kai, the annual hunt will never stop because it's mandatory for the people of Taiji to support themselves. "People keep telling us to stop whaling and find another way of earning a living," he told the Guardian. "But what on earth would we do instead?"