Former Hunter Speaks Out Against Dolphin Hunting
By Mark J. Palmer
International Marine Mammal Project
Earth Island Institute
In the town of Futo, Japan, just a few years ago, massive numbers of dolphins were herded into the narrow harbor and butchered for meat. Old photographs of the melee are incredible, as is video footage taken by Japanese activists of the hunts. The cruelty to the dolphins matches anything seen in Taiji.
Unlike the town of Taiji (further down the coast from Tokyo), Futo did have a long history of killing dolphins, albeit not “ancient” by any means.
One participant in the bloody hunts was Mr. Izumi Ishii. His father was a dolphin hunter, and Ishii-san followed in his footsteps killing the large, intelligent animals for meat and sale.
Then one day, according to Ishii-san, he was about to kill a dolphin but saw a tear in its eye. He says he could not bring himself to kill another dolphin, and eventually broke off working with other fishermen in Futo to drive and kill dolphins.
Ironically, it was Mr. Ishii and the other dolphin hunters in Futo that taught their colleagues in Taiji about how to drive and kill dolphins. The Taiji hunts, which have been claimed to be “ancient tradition”, actually only started in 1969, and then mainly to catch some live false killer whales for the Taiji Whale Museum. Ever since, the Taiji dolphin slaughters have been subsidized by the captures of dolphins for captivity, sold around the world to aquariums and swim-with-dolphins programs. This real history is written up in the town’s own materials, but they and the Japanese government prefer the lie that the dolphin hunts have been going on for hundreds of years instead of a few decades.
Mr. Ishii has been running whale- and dolphin-watching cruises with his boat out of Futo, while Futo has become a major tourist center for SCUBA divers from Tokyo.
Mr. Ishii recently told his story to Australia’s 60 Minutes show. His interview is here:
In Futo, the practice of killing dolphins gradually ended – fewer and fewer dolphins could be caught, while the fishermen got older and did not want to pursue the hunts anymore. The last drive hunt in Futo was in 2004, when nine bottlenose dolphins were caught for captivity. Since then, large nets have been deployed just outside the harbor for fish farms, effectively blocking any future drives. (However, the Japan Fisheries Agency persists in annually giving Futo a large quota of dolphins they can kill, and every year, the Futo fishermen go through the motions of deciding whether or not they will go chasing dolphins again. Of course, they always decide not to.)
Mr. Ishii wants dolphins to be considered the emissaries for the health of the oceans. Recently, he joined Ric O’Barry at Temple University in Tokyo to present his story to a large audience, including Japanese media. Ric hopes it will put to rest the claim that Taiji’s hunts are “ancient tradition.” Nothing could be further from the truth.
Taiji can learn a thing or two from the experience of Futo and other places in Japan that use live wild dolphins as a tourist draw rather than exploit them in a welter of blood.
Photos of Mr. Izumi Ishii on his boat by Mark J. Palmer/Earth Island Institute.