A Deep Dive Behind The New Report On Taiji Cruelty

Courtney Vail, one of the authors of this newly published paper detailing the extreme nature of the killing methods used in the Taiji dolphin drives, explains in more detail how off the charts the killing methods really are:

But what hasn’t changed is the desire of the fishermen to keep the activities in the cove hidden from public view.  If culture and tradition, why such secrecy and shame? Albert Schweitzer, in a call to unveil the cruel activities in the name of tradition everywhere, stated “The thinking (person) must oppose all cruel customs, no matter how deeply rooted in tradition and surrounded by a halo. When we have a choice, we must avoid bringing torment and injury into the life of another.” What is deplorable is the disparity between how dolphins and other animals are treated, even within Japan.   The current techniques employed in the drive hunts violate even current animal welfare regulations within Japan where domesticated animals are afforded protection under their equivalent of the Animal Welfare Act. These guidelines intended to minimize pain, suffering, fear, and “agony” are outlined for species such as horses, cattle, sheep, pigs, dogs, and other animals under human care or management.  Dolphins and whales are not protected by this law, nor are they afforded protection under the wildlife protection and hunting laws. Instead, dolphins and whales fall under the jurisdiction of the Fisheries Agency under the Department of Agriculture, which affords them little protection.  This is in sharp contrast to the protection for dolphins and whales in legislation in other parts of the world where the slaughter of whales and dolphin is strictly prohibited and even their harassment incurs penalties.

Even Japan’s stranding guidelines, issued by the very same agency (Japan Fisheries Agency) responsible for issuing quotas for the dolphin hunts across Japan, cite the necessity of involving a veterinarian in the humane euthanasia or slaughter of a stranded dolphin, and only under extreme circumstances where the individual animal is not likely to survive.  Here, the stranding manual suggests that the spinal incision method, similar to killing method in the drive hunts (without the utilization of the wooden plug), ‘gives psychological damage to observers’ and that spectators should be eliminated from the site, and drugs used instead to “execute” small cetaceans such as dolphins.  In the drive hunts, dozens are killed at a time, dragged to the shoreline by their tailstocks after an exhausting round up at sea.  Under many commercial slaughter regulations, and even compassionate euthanasia standards, it is required that animals should not be in close proximity when killed to avoid the distress associated with the sight, sounds, and smells of slaughter. For example, in the US and UK, the regulations and guidelines governing the humane treatment and slaughter of animals prohibit the killing of an animal in the presence of other animals. From a scientific, humane, and ethical perspective, the treatment of dolphins in these drive hunts sharply contradict current animal welfare standards employed in most modern and technologically advanced societies.

There has been some hard pushback on the paper, because it could be interpreted to be arguing that if the Taiji fishermen simply used accepted livestock slaughter practices then the drive hunts would be okay. While I think the pushback makes a legitimate criticism of the report, there is a benefit to detailing how completely abhorrent–and completely distinct from the slaughter of ANY animal– the Taiji killing methods are. Yes, every discussion about the Taiji dolphin drive should make crystal clear that it should end, without qualification, and that the entire concept of herding and killing dolphins is inhumane and immoral, period. But to the extent that the report shocks people with a deeper understanding of the unusual and extreme cruelty involved, I think it helps build revulsion and opposition to the very idea of the Taiji dolphin drives, regardless of whether the fishermen ever tried to adopt more accepted livestock slaughter practices. That is important.

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: