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dolphin swimming Isabella Maffei / Barcroft Image / Barcroft Media via Getty Images

The Lethal Consequences of Misclassifying Dolphins

Japanese law categorizes dolphins as fish, not mammals. As a result, for the past two months, commercial fishers have been herding dolphins into a narrow cove in Tajji and slaughtering them by the hundreds.

PRINCETON – The annual dolphin hunt in the Japanese town of Taiji began in September. By next March, despite global condemnation and mounting criticism from Japan’s own citizens, approximately 1,500 dolphins will have been herded into a narrow cove and stabbed to death.

Taiji is not the only place where dolphins are hunted. The Faroe Islands, Solomon Islands, Greenland, Russia, Indonesia, Peru, and Canada are also killing sites. The largest hunts, however, take place in Japan, where commercial fishers regard dolphins as pests, because they eat commercially valuable fish. During the hunts, they trap the dolphins, sell the “pretty” ones to marine parks, and butcher the rest for meat. It is estimated that in the past 70 years, more than one million whales, dolphins, and porpoises have been killed in Japanese waters. Reports indicate that many of the cetacean species targeted by Japan’s coastal hunts will never recover to sustainable levels.

Attempts to argue that the Taiji dolphin hunt is contrary to international law have so far been unsuccessful. Although the International Whaling Commission introduced a ban on commercial whaling, there is no consensus among member countries as to whether the moratorium extends to small cetaceans such as dolphins.

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