The Cove Hunt Is on Again, Which Means Dolphins Are in Danger

The annual dolphin drive and slaughter in Taiji, Japan, has begun, and for the first time in 14 years, the man who made the practice infamous won’t be there to protest it.
(Photo: Ric O’Barry’s Dolphin Project/Facebook)
Sep 4, 2016· 1 MIN READ
Taylor Hill is an associate editor at TakePart covering environment and wildlife.

For dolphins swimming off the southwest coast of Japan, the end of summer can mean the end of their lives.

That’s because the annual dolphin-hunting season at the cove in Taiji, Japan, begins Sept. 1, when fishers “drive” and corner pods of the marine mammals into the cove, where they are captured and sold to marine parks or killed for their meat.

For dolphin trainer–turned–dolphin activist Ric O’Barry, this will be the 14th year his advocacy group, the Dolphin Project, will be on the ground in Taiji monitoring the roundups, shooting video of the drives, and raising awareness of dolphin slaughter and the role the captive marine mammal industry plays in the process.

The Dolphin Project says it is typical for around 150 of the best-looking dolphins that are captured to be sold to marine parks in Japan, China, and other countries, while hundreds of others are killed and sold for their meat each season.

“Each year it gets more challenging, as they keep erecting barricades and restricting access to block our views, yet we don’t quit,” said O’Barry, the star of the 2009 Oscar-winning documentary The Cove. “However, we see more and more people interested in learning about the slaughters and getting more involved to end the hunts and the captivity of dolphins for entertainment, which is a very positive development and one we hope continues to grow.”

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But for the first time, O’Barry will not be joining his cohorts on the ground in Japan. In February, Japanese officials detained and deported the onetime trainer of TV’s Flipper, barring him from entry back into the country because of a supposed violation of his tourist visa.

At the time of O’Barry’s deportation, Louie Psihoyos, director of The Cove and executive director of the Ocean Preservation Society, said the arrest was an attempt by Japanese officials to silence one of the loudest critics of the dolphin hunts.

“He was deported because the Taiji dolphin slaughter is a huge international embarrassment to Japan, and Ric is the most vocal protester,” Psihoyos said. “He didn’t violate any Japanese laws, but he brings worldwide attention to one of the most brutal animal atrocities in the world.”

O’Barry is fighting the deportation decision, and his case is pending in the Japanese court system.

“We are awaiting further developments,” said Christine Gau, Dolphin Project spokeswoman. “He will not be allowed to return to Japan until there is a resolution.”