In Japan, dolphins and porpoises are hunted for meat all around the coast. Traditionally, this meat was sold for local consumption in the towns and villages where the dolphins were caught. Recently, however, dolphin meat has begun to appear more widely, in city supermarkets and restaurants.

Coastal dolphin hunts in Japan are conducted in two main ways. Most species, such as the striped, spotted and bottlenose dolphins and the short-finned pilot and flase killer whales, are taken by driving the dolphins into bays, which are then barricaded with nets - the same method used at Iki.

The other type of hunt is conducted with hand-held harpoons from small boats. The Pacific white-sided dolphin is difficult to herd and so is frequently caught this way, as is the Dall's porpoise, which does not form large enough schools to be herded.

For many years, about 20,000 small cetaceans were recorded as being caught annually in Japanese coastal hunts. However, some scientists with Japan, such as Toshio Kasuya of the Far Seas Fisheries Research Institute, claimed that many of the catches went unreported and that the real total of small cetaceans killed annually was near to 40,000.

At the 1989 meeting of the Scientific Committee of the International Whaling Commission (IWC), Japan revealed that, according to official statistics, 46,273 small cetaceans were reported as being intentionally killed in its coastal waters during 1988. (In addition, 3,318 were recorded as being caught incidentally in fishing nets.)

This figure was the result of a massive increase in the number of Dall's porpoises killed, which rose from the previous average of about 10,000 a year to 39,737 in 1988. Alarmingly, all were taken from two stocks which together had been estimated to contain only 105,000 individuals.

The Japanese commissioner to the IWC argued in 1989 that this increase was prompted by the IWC's refusal to allow Japanese coastal communities to kill minke whales during the commercial whaling moratorium. Other delegates and scientists rejected this argument as simplistic, claiming the increase could just as easily be ascribed to fishermen seeking alternative prey as a result of dwindling fish stocks.

During the 1988 season there had been a large, orchestrated publicity campaign encouraging people to eat greater quantities of dolphin meat. Far from being used as a replacement for minke meat by small coastal communities, dolphin meat is now a valuable commodity which is being sold in many city supermarkets for extremely high prices; in 1990, 100g of frozen 'gondo', or pilot whale meal, was selling for 680 yen, the equivalent of 13.20 british pounds per pound.

Many scientists and conservationists believe that the increasing number of dolphin kills is simply a sign that, after contributing to the over-exploitation of several species of large whales, the intransigent Japanese whaling industry is now turning to smaller whales, dolphins and porpoises as the next most available and exploitable species.

Lost? Click here for the main index page.