Several countries still participate in this practice with some cetaceans killed for human consumption, whilst others are captured live and sold to marine parks and dolphinariums around the world.
Every year in Taiji, fishermen are given permits by the local government to capture or kill almost 2,000 dolphins and small whales during the drive hunt season which runs from the beginning of October until the end of March each year. These hunts are extremely distressing, however as they are sanctioned by the government they are perfectly legal.
Drive hunts in Taiji form part of Japan’s coastal whaling programme and are operated by just 26 fishermen in motorised boats. At the start of a hunt, the boats head out from the coastal area to deeper waters and wait for the dolphins to appear. When a pod is sighted, the fishermen lower metal poles into the water on the port and starboard side of the vessel. They then continuously bang on the poles with hammers creating a wall of sound underwater – trapping the dolphins in an acoustic wall of sound between the shoreline and the open sea. Frightened and trying to escape the sound they naturally swim in the opposite direction, directly into a shallow cove where the fishermen close off their escape with nets, leaving them trapped and at their mercy. During captures dolphin families become stressed, confused and separated. The majority are slaughtered for their meat but others are kept alive, selected for sale to the captivity industry as a live dolphin or small whale makes a higher profit for the fishermen.
Pilot whales are hunted annually for their meat in the Faroe Islands. Catches are most common in July and August but entire family groups can lose their lives at any given time of the year. When sighted, the marine mammals are rounded up by small boats and driven into shallow bays where they are dragged further up the beach and killed.
Local people cut through the whale’s neck with knives, severing the major blood supply to the brain. National whaling regulations states that the hunt should be conducted in such a way as to cause as little suffering to the whales as possible but the level of brutality and suffering is shocking. Other species of small cetaceans other than pilot whales are occasionally hunted, these include bottlenose dolphins, white-beaked dolphins, Atlantic white-sided dolphins and harbour porpoise. The hunting of these dolphin species, with the exception of harbour porpoises, is carried out in the same way as the pilot whale hunt – porpoises are killed with shotguns. Unfortunately there are no legal mechanisms currently available to prevent the drive hunts but perhaps through time some Faroese hunters will change their way on how they view dolphins and whales as food, an entire culture may not change overnight but hopefully future generations around these islands will protect these majestic marine mammals instead.
The Solomon Islands are located in the Pacific Ocean to the east of Papua New Guinea and have a long history of “drive hunting”, however, few villages now participate in the killing of spinner or pantropical spotted dolphin whose teeth are used for wedding ceremonies or as currency. The dolphin meat is also sold for cash, either within the hunting villages or locally on other islands.
Hunters in flotillas of 20-30 canoes drive dolphin pods from deep to coastal waters by hitting stones together creating a sound barrier underwater that confuses the dolphins, driving them towards the shore into shallow mangroves where they are eventually then killed.
Drive hunting is particularly prominent on the island of Malaita, with the most active village Fanalei, killing 15,400 dolphins between 1976 and 2013. This is one of the largest documented hunts of dolphins in the world. Dozens of dolphins are killed for just one marriage settlement to provide the teeth for a brides’ dowry. If the value of the dolphin teeth continues to increase, the motivation to kill even more dolphins could escalate, which would threaten the sustainability of the wild dolphin population in the area and also mean more suffering and cruelty for the animals, all of which is of grave concern.