Is The Taiji Dolphin Slaughter Cruel?

Not that there was much doubt, but a scientific paper categorizes and defines the level of extreme cruelty. The DotEarth blog digs in:

In a new peer-reviewed study, scientists assess the killing method employed by the dolphin hunters of Taiji, Japan, by watching video recorded surreptitiously in 2011 by a German dolphin-protection group, AtlanticBlue. The still image at right is from the video, which can be seen here (but be forewarned; this is not suitable for children — or many adults, for that matter).

Here’s the researchers’ not-so-surprising prime conclusion:

This killing method does not conform to the recognized requirement for “immediate insensibility” [some background is here] and would not be tolerated or permitted in any regulated slaughterhouse process in the developed world.

Here’s the abstract from the paper:

A Veterinary and Behavioral Analysis of Dolphin Killing Methods Currently Used in the ‘Drive Hunt’ in Taiji, Japan

Journal of Applied Animal Welfare Science, Volume 16Issue 2, 2013 (DOI: 10.1080/10888705.2013.768925)

Andrew ButterworthPhilippa BrakesCourtney S. Vail & Diana Reiss

Annually in Japanese waters, small cetaceans are killed in “drive hunts” with quotas set by the government of Japan. The Taiji Fishing Cooperative in Japan has published the details of a new killing method that involves cutting (transecting) the spinal cord and purports to reduce time to death. The method involves the repeated insertion of a metal rod followed by the plugging of the wound to prevent blood loss into the water. To date, a paucity of data exists regarding these methods utilized in the drive hunts. Our veterinary and behavioral analysis of video documentation of this method indicates that it does not immediately lead to death and that the time to death data provided in the description of the method, based on termination of breathing and movement, is not supported by the available video data. The method employed causes damage to the vertebral blood vessels and the vascular rete from insertion of the rod that will lead to significant hemorrhage, but this alone would not produce a rapid death in a large mammal of this type. The method induces paraplegia (paralysis of the body) and death through trauma and gradual blood loss. This killing method does not conform to the recognized requirement for “immediate insensibility” and would not be tolerated or permitted in any regulated slaughterhouse process in the developed world.

DotEarth also puts a few questions to co-author Diana Reiss, and includes a bunch of other useful links on the topics of Taiji, dolphins and intelligence.

Read the whole thing, but this exchange is particularly important, I think:

Q. One of the standard replies from Japan on this issue (whether with whales or dolphins) is that we, for example, cherish bison but eat bison burgers. Is there a distinction?

A. You cannot compare bison to dolphins in the cognitive domain. However, bison are not killed in this inhumane manner. Nor are lab rats. In cases in which animals are domesticated for food, most modern countries are striving for better animal welfare practices that minimize pain and suffering during the killing process with the goal to render an animal unconscious quickly before it is killed. This is not the case in the dolphin drive hunts. These are not domesticated animals; they are wild dolphins that are captured within their social groups, mother and young, and slaughtered using a technique that actually prolongs death, pain and suffering. The herding procedures themselves are inhumane and may include forced submersion as the dolphins are dragged by their tails to shore to be killed.

This is not to say that dolphins should be killed. They should not.

This is probably the best answer Reiss could give to the contradiction of supporting animal rights and welfare for certain species, but eating meat produced by practices that are also cruel and inhumane. And I agree that the dolphin slaughter should be stopped quite apart from livestock slaughter.

But it is not really a satisfactory or convincing answer. There is a moral contradiction in eating meat while expressing outrage at the abuse and cruelty involved in the slaughter of other species. You can try to defend one species but not another by creating different categories of animals based on intelligence. But while cows and pigs might not be as intelligent as dolphins, they are sentient beings. They know fear. They know loss. To die is painful and they resist that fate as ardently as any species, no matter how intelligent. In the end, the only position which truly avoids this moral contradiction is to oppose animal slaughter and cruelty for all species.

Update: Lori Marino of Emory University and the Kimmela Center for Animal Advocacy, who has a long and complex history of disagreement on principle with Reiss, pushes back, hard, on another moral contradiction:

So what kind of killing WOULD be acceptable? It is absolutely offensive that anyone who works in the dolphin captivity industry would feel they have anything worthwhile to say about the Taiji dolphin drives. This is not about dolphin welfare any more than murdering humans is. This is about dolphin rights. But those in the captivity industry will continue to milk the welfare issue because it provides them a way to appear to be concerned about Taiji while still supporting the industry that drives the Taiji slaughters.

This video, which was used in the study (Warning: GRAPHIC) is horrific. But I could show you (and have) any number of videos of cows and pigs being slaughtered that you will find equally revolting and objectionable:

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