A recent study entitled A Veterinary and Behavioral Analysis of Dolphin Killing Methods Currently Used in the “Drive Hunt” in Taiji, Japan recently published in the Journal of Applied Animal Welfare Science is stirring up a heated controversy over its conclusions. The authors of the paper take a welfare-based approach to dissecting the current methods used by the hunters in Taiji, Japan to kill thousands of dolphins, bringing the ongoing and increasingly pointed debate about welfare versus rights to the fore.

I’ve voiced my concerns about this paper on Facebook and on several websites. But Michael Mountain has written a piece on his own website that captures Kimmela’s position on this issue with clarity and flair. I present it here as a guest blog post.

Best Way to Murder a Dolphin

By Michael Mountain

A new study by four scientists is arguing for more "humane" ways of killing the dolphins at the annual Taiji massacre in Japan. (That’s the massacre that was portrayed in the Oscar-winning movie The Cove.) What they are saying could set back the entire movement to bring an end to this horror. Here’s why.

taiji-1-040813Two years ago, the dolphin protection group Atlantic Blue captured video of the latest way of killing the dolphins in the cove: driving a metal rod into to the top of the spinal cord, thus paralyzing the dolphins, then plugging the wound so there won’t be so much blood in the water. (The video is here. But note that it is very distressing; you see the dolphins shaking and trembling as they slowly die.)

Now four scientists have produced a study that itemizes the cruelty involved in this method of killing. Two of them, Courtney Vail and Philippa Brakes, are from the Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society (WDCS). The third, Andrew Butterworth, is a veterinarian at the University of Bristol. And Diana Reiss conducts research on captive dolphins at the Baltimore Aquarium. (See my 2010 interview with her here.) They write:

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.

And they conclude:

There thus appears to be no logical reason to accept a killing method that is clearly not carried out in accordance with fundamental and globally adopted principles on the commercial utilization, care, and treatment of animals.

In other words, they basically advocate not for the end of the massacre at Taiji, but for a more "humane" way of conducting it.

They are advocating not for the end of the massacre, but for a more "humane" way of conducting it.

Reiss is interviewed by Andrew Revkin of the acclaimed "Dot Earth" blog, where she says, on the one hand, that "dolphins are a cognitively and socially complex species that exist in their own societies in the seas" and, on the other, that "the methods used to herd dolphins and then kill them is off-the chart in terms of any concern for animal welfare."

But what goes on at Taiji is not about "methods"; it’s about murder.

For their part, Vail and Brakes are signatories to the Declaration of Rights for Cetaceans: Whales and Dolphins, which was initiated by the WDCS, and whose first three clauses state that:

  1. Every individual cetacean has the right to life.
  2. No cetacean should be held in captivity or servitude; be subject to cruel treatment; or be removed from their natural environment.
  3. All cetaceans have the right to freedom of movement and residence within their natural environment.

How do they reconcile, what they’re saying in their new paper, which is about "methods" of murder, with the declaration that "every individual cetacean has the right to life?

This takes us back to the classic debate of animal welfare vs. animal rights.

Animal rights advocates are basically abolitionists. We say there’s no such thing as "humane slaughter." Killing is simply wrong.

We say there’s no such thing as "humane slaughter." Killing is simply wrong.

Animal welfarists, meanwhile, work for incremental change – like in the efforts of the Humane Society of the U.S. to press for better conditions at factory farms and more humane ways of killing the animals.

Similarly, in the world of homeless pets, humane societies and shelters that "euthanize" the dogs and cats they take in tell themselves that it’s in the animal’s best interests. The no-kill movement, on the other hand, draws a line in the sand and says that killing companion animals for any reason other than when they are painfully and terminally sick is just plain wrong. (And the no-kill movement has driven the number of dogs and cats being killed at shelters each year down from 17 million a year in the early 1990s to around 3 million today.)

By the end of January this year, the number of dolphins who had been driven into the infamous cove at Taiji, Japan, for the annual massacre had topped 1,209. There were still two months to go and we don’t have the final figures. But they were already way over the 848 last year. (Mark Palmer of Earth Island Institute projects that the number killed in the massacre this year was 899. Those not killed were sent to entertainment and research facilities or were released – mostly to die alone later.)

In response to the new study on dolphin-killing methods, many animal protection advocates are already arguing that we should all work together for whatever change we think we can get. For example, Marc Bekoff, the prolific writer on the emotions and cognitive abilities of nonhuman animals, supports the conclusions of the WDCS folks and researcher Reiss in wanting to focus on the inhumane methods of murder:

I realize that some people want much more action and they want it now. They are frustrated by the slow progress that is being made on the egregious and thoroughly unethical and inhumane murder of these amazing sentient beings. … [But] those who share common goals must work for the animals and not against one another. There really is strength in numbers.

To which, Lori Marino, director of the Kimmela Center for Animal Advocacy, responds:

I would ask the authors: Exactly what is the appropriate way to kill a dolphin? You are right – the dolphins need all the help they can get. And what they do not need are so-called dolphin advocates implying that the problem with Taiji is that they are not killed according to the same standards used to kill farm animals. … This paper takes us ten steps backwards and, in my opinion, is inexcusable.

I agree. And I compare the massacre of dolphins to the death camps of Nazi Germany. Half of my own family perished at Auschwitz, and the idea that people supposedly trying to help them might have come along with the compromise plan that they should be killed according to some kind of "globally adopted principles" would be abhorrent. It is abhorrent to take anything less than an abolitionist position in relation to the murder and enslavement of any nonhuman animal.

The idea that people supposedly fighting slavery might settle for better conditions for the slaves is abhorrent.

And it is, to me, equally abhorrent to take anything less than an abolitionist position in relation to the murder and enslavement of any nonhuman animal.

Let those who kill and enslave the animals and who want to appease the animal protection movement negotiate with themselves by finding more "humane" ways to kill. Perhaps, if I were one of the dolphins at Taiji or one of humans at Auschwitz, I’d prefer a quicker, easier way to be killed. But either way, I’d be dead. Come to think of it, if I understood that in going along with that I’d just be helping to legitimize yet more murder, I’d rather go out painfully and have it on video. At least I’d know that my death might make a difference.

Bottom line: I just don’t buy the argument that humane killing is better. It doesn’t stop the killing; it just condones it.

9 thoughts on “Best Way to Murder a Dolphin

  1. There is no “proper” way to kill a Dolphin or any other Sentient being. All have a right to life,to live in freedom,to raise and teach their young,to experience some level of happiness. There is no such thing as a “right” or “proper” way to kill any living being.

  2. Extremely well-said. Just today Orca (none the less!) was shot dead in Norway, as the way to ‘reduce suffering’ Bah, they reportedly drag body to sea, without any necropsy. Welfarism at its zenith ….

  3. I agree, there’s no such thing as “humane slaughter”. Killing should end. Our race is not above other animals, and we are definately not more clever- just look what we have done to our planet. We were wrong, so we have to change our ways, step by step. We do not need meat, fur, skin or oil of other animals. Not any more. We should stop all of those old ‘traditions’ and become different, better human race. If not, if we just search for different ways of killing, we will not evolve. Then we won’t deserve better future.

  4. I agree fully with Lori and Michael–killing cetaceans is simply wrong and cannot be condoned. However, having working at length in several whaling nations on the issue of direct hunts, I know that –thus far anyway–when we bring this approach to decision makers in countries where killing cetaceans remains legal and acceptable, they simply tend to shut their ears and ignore so-called “extremists” (this, despite the growing mountain of scientific evidence to support the claims of non-human personhood for cetaceans) and the killing agenda carries on as usual. Nothing changes. Those who are all too familiar with the typical counter-arguments: “well, you kill cows, we kill dolphins” may see this report by WDC as a kind of foot in the door: “yes we kill cows, but your methods of killing dolphins are so cruel as to be unacceptable by current slaughter house standards.” Maybe, this is a way to be heard and begin the process of ending these hunts. I think where this leads is that in fact, there is NO humane way to kill a cetacean, because they are such large and robust creatures. Its going to take time for any majority in whaling nations (and elsewhere) to grasp why killing cetaceans in any way for any reason is unacceptable, until then, I think we need to find ways and approaches of being heard inside nations where whaling remains legal. In any case, the passion and hard work of all those working on these issues around the world has my utmost respect. Thank you.

  5. For the record, WDC (Whale and Dolphin Conservation [www.whales.org]) opposes the hunting of all whales and dolphins and their captivity. In campaigning to end the exploitation of whales and dolphins the expansion upon welfare arguments does not preclude or diminish rights arguments, and indeed, are a necessary frame of reference in refuting the standards that are currently guiding the slaughter in Taiji. Welfare and rights are not either or, they are part of the same movement towards better protection.

    We would ask how does refuting the claims by Japanese researchers that these methods are humane mean that we are endorsing killing? It is a ludicrous interpretation that by exposing and discrediting cruelty that this somehow equates to its promotion?

    By comparing the methods to domestic slaughter guidelines, and even the guidelines within Japan, we note the glaring inconsistency with how dolphins are treated, and expose their lack of protection. Dolphins within Japan are not even being afforded the very basic protections and care afforded to other animals under human care and management. How can this be in a modern society?

    If you take the time to read the paper, you will note that it argues the entire process of the hunts is inhumane. The paper isn’t about making the killing more humane, it is about ending it. The facts are that we are not promoting the killing of dolphins in a better way; we are pointing out that their data are incorrect, invalid, and therefore should be rejected. This analysis verifies the explicit cruelty of these methods, and lends support to a renewed call for an end to the hunts on welfare grounds alone.
    The veterinary analysis is one tool and approach in our larger fight to legitimize the call for an end to the hunts in all circles, not just those likeminded circles of people that agree with us. Decision makers within the highest levels of government within Japan are responsible for the quotas and the politics that drive these hunts, not just the fishermen in Taiji. It is a necessary step to challenge and invalidate the science that supports the killing in Taiji.

    The video data that we compare to the Japanese researchers’ data has already circulated, been the subject of blogs, and fueled renewed calls for an end to the killing. And the killing continues, unabated. And unfortunately, the suffering continues while we wait for that incremental change that shifts the paradigm from welfare arguments to the recognition of rights. This shift requires the exposure and recognition of the violation of even basic welfare standards in order to provide the stepping stones for the rest of the world to catch up in acknowledging the suffering associated with such mistreatment. This is just one piece of a larger strategy–comparing standards of slaughter doesn’t endorse them, but is necessary to show how utterly anachronistic and unacceptable the killing methods are in Taiji, even by the government’s own standards.

    This is not about the promotion of any agenda or campaign: this is about clinically and objectively verifying the inhumanity of the drive hunts and calling for their end. This is a veterinary analysis to examine and refute the claims of Japanese researchers regarding this method. We believe that these hunts can never be humane, and if you read the analysis, we indicate clearly that there are other elements of the hunt, besides the device, that make these hunts inhumane, unethical, and untenable. There is no controversy here except the one that is being manufactured.

    And in return, we have to ask those that have sought to criticize the paper, would you rather this horrible method not be brought to light and discredited?

    It is going to take every tack and angle to end these hunts and a large collective of diverse groups focused on this issue.
    The bottom line is that these hunts will never be humane – beyond the actual slaughter methods, they involve a drive which causes fear and panic AND even if the dolphins could be killed humanely (which they can’t) we believe they have a right to life and liberty.

    We never advocate for any particular killing method (and never would) because we believe the hunts should end, not only because they are inhumane, but because these are sentient, sapient individuals, each with a right not to be killed or incarcerated. And these are the core guiding philosophies that have always, and will continue to, guide WDC’s activities.

  6. I have read the article referenced above on the analysis of the dolphin killing methods in Taiji, after it was originally published and again today before posting this message. I struggle to understand how it could be interpreted that the authors in any way are trying to justify the atrocity that is carried out against those amazing creatures as these drive hunts continue year after year.

    The responses posted before this, and also on a variety of other sites that contain postings on this issue, are clearly written by many educated and intelligent people who appear well versed in the issues of “animal welfare” vs “animal rights” and many other subjects that can be brought into this debate about the intent of the analysis that was done and the conclusions drawn from it.
    There are many emotional comments and then responses to comments that go into discussions about the appropriateness of the angle taken on the subject matter of the article and even the credibility of the authors themselves. Statements about what documents they may have created, signed or published prior and also what positions they may take on related issues and saying that to take a certain stance on one issue might make someone less credible in the analysis of another issue. I’m not here today to argue those points, nor do I profess to be qualified to argue them. To do that, one would have to fully understand the position of each author, the relationship between all the issues being discussed, and the scope in which they were asked to participate on the analysis that was published in this article. What I’m here today to argue, is that possibly these discussions have gotten off track completely and somehow become a forum for a group of people who all operate in and around the arena of animal advocacy in various capacities, to air differences of opinion and differences in approach to the wide variety of issues that you all work so hard for every day.

    My unsolicited, and admittedly only marginally qualified advice as a very interested observer is that you all should take care to not let your energy be diverted from the cause I feel that you all are focused on, by allowing any of that energy to be consumed trying to criticize or critique each other’s methods publicly. What that may run the risk of doing is also diverting the focus of your audience, like myself, into following along the emotional posts and responses and the intrigue of interpersonal challenges and defenses, rather than staying focused on the issue at hand, the killing of the dolphins must stop.

    I applaud you all for your energy, your passion toward your calling in life and your empathy for the animals that do need people like you to educate the masses and to protect and support their rights. I think regardless of the angle or approach you take, bringing out the facts and discrediting any justifications of these despicable acts is a positive thing overall. I think it is clear that this was the intent of the authors of the article on the analysis of the killing methods, and I think the article did a great job of proving the data was questionable. The culture needs to change in the end and the drive hunts should be ceased, but that isn’t going to happen overnight. Hopefully what factual based articles like this will do is plant a seed of change and if continued focus can be maintained on the issue, from all angles, maybe that seed will grow and change will happen.

  7. I’m not sure if the writer is aware but slaughter houses are months of pure torture. The dolphins are lucky conoared. Go vegan

    1. Dear Kaitlynn – Thank you for your comment. I am certainly aware of what happens in slaughterhouses and I am vegan. But to say the dolphins are lucky is insensitive to their experience in drive hunts.

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