Ric O’Barry and Earth Island Institute (EII) are reporting that the number of dolphins dying in Taiji has been ratcheted down in each of the past three seasons. EII’s volunteer monitors estimate that less than 800 dolphins were killed in the recent dolphin hunt season (September 2011 to March 2012), and the drive hunts ended a month early (at the end of February rather than the typical end of March). Last season, 2010-2011, the Taiji dolphin hunters killed 1,190 dolphins. The previous season? In the 2009-2010 season, 1,336 dolphins died. In the 2008-2009 season, 1,484 dolphins died. The dolphin hunters in Taiji appear to be going out of business, slowly.
This decline in dolphin hunting is happening at a time when the killing of whales by Japan for so-called “scientific” purposes has been very limited. Furthermore, with the tsunami that hit northern Japanese towns in March 2011, the availability of Dall’s porpoise meat has been severely disrupted. Yet, despite this lack of competition for whale and dolphin meat this year in Japanese markets, the Taiji hunters continue to kill fewer and fewer dolphins.
Why is the Taiji hunt declining? Sources in Taiji report that the hunts are declining because the fishermen cannot sell dolphin meat on the market as before. This is largely due to educational campaigns warning Japanese consumers about the dangers of eating mercury-contaminated dolphin meat. (This, of course, was a major theme of Academy Award-winning The Cove documentary.)